Questions and Answers from The Merchant of Venice Act 1 Scene 2 by William Shakespeare

Structured Questions from Act 1 Scene 2 of the Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
Questions and Answers from The Merchant Of Venice ACT 1 SCENE 2

Nerissa :
You would be, sweet madam, if your miseries were in the same
abundance as your good fortunes are : and yet, for aught I see, they 
are as sick that surfeit with too much as they that starve with 
nothing. It is no mean happiness therefore, to be seated in the mean :
superfluity comes sooner by white hairs, but competency lives longer.

1. Whom Nerissa is addressing as Madam? Where are the characters? To what comment made by the other person does the speaker give this reply?


Nerissa is addressing Portia, as Madam, one of the main characters of the play. The characters are now in Belmont, in a room in Portia's house. The speaker gave this reply to the comment made by Portia that her little body is tired with this great world.

2. According to Nerissa, why is the body of the other person 'aweary of this great world'? What is Nerissa's relationship with the other person?


According to Nerissa, Portia is doubtful about her future because of strange provisions of her father's will. Nerissa is Portia's maid but she is her friend and confidante too. She says some people are tired of their extreme poverty while others due to too much of wealth.

3. Earlier, in what way did Nerissa try to cheer Portia? What was Portia's reaction to what Nerissa had said?


When Portia says that she is weary, Nerissa comforts Portia by saying that she would have been really weary, if her miseries were in the same abundance as her fortunes. People who suffer from too much tiredness emanating out of boredom are just as those who suffer from starvation. It is better to be placed in the middle. Those who have too much, age sooner. Those who have just enough, live longer. But Portia is placed in the middle, so she should not feel sad. She compliments Nerissa by saying that the speech was well-spoken.

4. Where does happiness lie, according to the extract? What opinion have you formed of Nerissa, from this extract?


Happiness is 'seated in the mean'. It means, happiness is placed in the middle; between poverty and riches. Although Nerissa is a maid, she has a lot of wisdom. She is a philosopher and this is the reason, Portia considers her as a friend and close companion.

5. Give the meaning of 'they are as sick as that surfeit with so much', and 'superfluity comes sooner by white hairs, but competency lives longer'.


The expressions mean that the people with too much money and good fortune are as unhappy as the ones who are poor. In fact people having too much of everything age faster but who have just enough live longer.

6. In the light of what happens later, why do you think, the 'Madam' is unhappy?


Portia is unhappy because her father had willed that her marriage should take place by lottery. Portia, being independent personality would like to make her own choices. She is attracted to Bassanio. She feels restricted and anxious because her fate depends on who chooses the right casket. 

Portia : 
If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had
been churches, and poor men's cottages princes' palaces. It is a good 
divine that follows his own instructions : I can easier teach twenty 
what were good to be done, than be one of the to follow mine own 
teaching. The brain may devise laws for the blood, but a hot temper 
leaps o'er a cold decree: such a hare is madness (the youth), to skip 
o'er the meshes of good counsel (the cripple).But this reasoning is not
 in the fashion to choose me a husband. O me, the word 'choose! I 
may neither choose who I would nor refuse who I dislike; so is the
will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead father. 

1. Where are Portia and Nerissa at this moment? Why are they there?


Portia and Nerissa are in a room of Portia's house at Belmont. They are there waiting for the various suitors to make their choice of the caskets

2. Give the meaning of 'If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men's cottages princes' palaces'. Explain the allusion to the 'good divine'.


The lines mean that if doing good is as easy to know what is good. The chapels would be churches and poor men's house will be like royal palaces. If the priest is able to follow what he preaches, he is a good preacher. This alludes to the difficulty in following instructions, even if it is good.

3. Why does Portia say that she finds it difficult to follow than to preach?


Portia wants to follow her heart. She doesn't have any desire to marry according to what her father has mentioned in the will. She says it is easy to give advice to twenty people as compared to follow her own teachings. The brain may make laws for the blood but the heat of the blood overpowers the dictates of such dry laws.

4. What does the impulse of youth makes one do? Explain the comparison here.


The madness of youth can leap across good advice without paying any heed to it. They are like a hare avoiding the trap of good advice of experienced people.

5. Later the speaker says. 'O me, the word choose'. Why is it said in such anguish?


Portia is a spirited woman brought up in such a way that she is used to make her own decisions. When it comes to the most important decision of her life of choosing her husband, she finds herself restricted by her father's will. She has to depend on lottery to choose her husband and this makes her unhappy.

6. Immediately after this extract, what reasons does Nerissa give to Portia to justify 'the will of a dead father'? Do you think that the justification proved correct? Give reasons for your answer.
What answer does Nerissa give in reply to these words ?


Nerissa tells Portia that she should not despair of her father's will. He was a pious and wise man. Moreover dying people get divine inspiration which makes them do what is right, so Portia will get the right person who truly loves her. This actually proved true as Bassanio who is a true lover chooses the right caskets while others due to their self-love and vanity fail to win her.

7. State in your own words what Portia means by 'the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead father'.


Portia means that her dead father's will is taking away her liberty to choose a husband on her own. Her wishes in life are being controlled by the wishes of a dead father.

8. 'the will of a dead father'. What does she say? From what she says, what opinion do you form of her?


Portia feels that even if she lives like Sybil who has been granted eternal life, she prefers to die a virgin like Diana. There is no option for her but to abide by her father's will, if at all she has to marry. One hope is that, the suitors are very reasonable and are planning to go back as they don't want to abide by the conditions of the will. This shows that Portia is an intelligent lady who has a mind of her own. She has not liked any of the suitors and is glad at their departure. She is willing to wait for a man who'll be after her own heart. 

Nerissa : How say you by the French lord, Monsieur Le Bon ? 
Portia : God made him, and therefore let him pass for a man. In truth, I know
it is a sin to be mocker; but, he! why, he hath a horse better than 
the Neapolitan's, a better bad habit of frowning than the Count 
Palatine; he is every man in no man; if a throstle sing, he falls 
straight a-capering; he will fence with his own shadow. If I should 
marry him, I should marry twenty husbands : if he would despise 
me, I would forgive him, for if he loves me to madness, I shall never
requite him. 

1. Bring out the context of the passage.


At Belmont, Portia and Nerissa were discussing the suitors who have come to marry Portia by the lottery of caskets. Portia is weary as she doesn't like come to marry Portia by the lottery of caskets. Portia is weary as she doesn't like her father's stipulation at all. In order to entertain her, Nerissa asks about each of the suitors and Portia wittily describes each one of them much of our entertainment. Here, they are talking about the French Lord, Le Bon.

2. Explain, 'God made him and therefore let him pass for a man.'


Portia is making fun of Le Bon by saying that since God made him; they have to consider him a man. Otherwise, he is a combination of all men, and no individuality to boast about.

3. In what way has Portia described Neapolitan prince & Count Palatine?


According to Portia, the Neapolitan prince is as immature and rash as a wild young horse. He talks about nothing but horses and considers it a great qualification that he can shoe his own horse. She feels that his mother must have had a love affair with a blacksmith. Count Palatine, on the other hand, does nothing but frown as though to say he cares little whether Portia accepts him or not. He hears good stories without a smile, and will prove a philosopher before he is old. Since he is such a gloomy man, Portia would rather marry a skeleton with a bone in its mouth.

4. Why does she say, 'If I should marry him, I should marry twenty husbands?


Portia feels that Le Bon is more attached to the horse than the Neapolitan frown more than Count Palatine. He has every man's fault, but is not a man at all. Marrying him will be like marrying twenty different men.

5. What does Portia say about Falconbridge?


Portia says that Falconbridge, the young Baron does not understand her just like she doesn't understand him. He doesn't know any language and his grasp of English is very poor. He is a fine figure of a man but who can hold a conversation by means of signs. He dresses incongruously in different styles, and borrows manners from everywhere. 

Therefore, for fear of the worst, I pray thee, set a deep glass of
Rhenish wine on the contrary casket, for, if the devil be within and 
that temptation with-out, I know he will choose it. I will do any
thing, Nerissa, ere I will be married to a sponge. 

1. In what context does Portia speak these words?


Portia and Nerissa are talking about the suitors who have come to seek the Portia's hand in marriage. When Portia is asked whether she has any preference for any one of these, she tells Nerissa to overname them and she'll inform her about her opinion. From the description, Nerissa can make her own judgment. They are now talking about a young German, the Duke of Saxony's nephew.

2. How does Portia describe the character talked about in the extract?


Portia says that the young German does not have a good disposition. In the morning when he is sober he is bad but in the noon when he is drunk, he becomes worse. When he is at his best he is a miserable type of man, and when he is at his worst he is like a beast.

3. Why does she ask Nerissa to keep the wine on the wrong casket?


Portia does not want to marry this young drunkard, and tells Nerissa to keep the Rhenish wine on the top of the wrong casket. So that even if the devil is inside the casket, he would not be able to resist the temptation to drink and he'll choose that casket.

4. How does Nerissa comfort Portia just after this?


Nerissa says that Portia need not worry if she has not liked any of the suitors as all these suitors have informed their desire to go back without choosing the caskets for fear of wrong choice as no one is ready to remain unmarried according to the condition put forward. They are ready to try their luck if there is another way other than choosing the caskets.

5. Portia talks about Sybilla and Diana, soon after this. Why does she do so? Which young man is talked about at the end of the scene?


Portia half playfully and half seriously says that ultimately none of the suitors will agree to the lottery of the caskets and she'll have to remain an old spinster like Sybil who got eternal life but not youth or Diana, the moon Goddess, who chose to remain unmarried. Bassanio, who visited Belmont at the time of Portia's father, is talked about at the end of the scene.

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