All that glisters is not gold;
Often have you heard that told.
Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold.
Gilded tombs do worms infold.
Had you been as wise as bold,
Young in limbs, in judgment old,
Your answer had not been inscrolled.
Fare you well; your suit is cold.
– Merchant of Venice (2.7.65-73)
After Morocco picks the golden casket towards the end of Act II, Scene VII of The Merchant of Venice, he reads aloud this note left inside, reminding him that love is not as surface level as he seems to think. In his speech beforehand, he contemplates the value of Portia, comparing her to a precious gem. He simply finds her desirable because she is desired by many, and slaps his thoughts with the label of love. His choice teaches us that love cannot be taken at surface value or be concerned with personal gain.
The note starts off, explaining that things aren’t always what they seem, “All that glisters is not gold” (2.7.65). Just because something looks rich and exciting, does not mean it is. Gold, while of high value, is not exactly practical. There are plenty of other, though unexciting, ores and mineable objects (iron, led, coal) that hold more meaning in society. Morocco sees Portia for her beauty, like gold, rather than for her heart, mind, and other more important and interesting qualities. Marriage, just like gold, looks beautiful and desirable from an outside perspective. The idea of a true love is a focal point of fairytales and fables throughout history, but that does not mean it comes without trial. The whole point of the casket challenge is testament to the trials of love. So often, people are in love with the idea of being in love, rather that truly loving the other person. Other times people choose someone for their looks, wealth, or popularity, much like Morocco has with Portia. He sees her like an item to posses, rather than an equal partner.
The poem also calls Morocco on his greed and materialism: “Many a man his life hath sold but my outside to behold” (2.7.67-8). These lines have a dual meaning, one about the casket itself, and the other about Portia. Greedy men have gone to crazy extents for riches like gold. At the same time, a number of suitors are signing themselves up for celibacy by picking the wrong casket for selfish reasons, as Portia says: “You must take your chance, and either not attempt to choose at all or swear before you choose, if you choose wrong never to speak to a lady afterward in way of marriage” (2.1.38-42). Greed does not have a place in love, but the opposite, as proved by Morocco’s err. As inscribed on the lead casket, love is a constant gift to another person, and never for self-indulgence: “Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath” (2.7.16).
In a way, the caskets are a way for a suitor to ask for Portia’s hand. It was important to Portia’s father for her potential husband to be intelligent and thoughtful: “Had you been as wise as bold, young in limb, in judgment old, your answer had not been inscrolled” (2.7.70-72). As her father is no longer living, he created a challenge where only a worthy suitor would be permitted to marry his daughter. Perhaps if Morocco had this in mind when he was pondering caskets, he would have chosen the right one. Instead, he rashly picks the gold casket, seeing Portia as desirable for her beauty, rather than how her father, or any wise man, would see her- charming and intelligent. He proves to be immature, pondering over the silver casket based on his ego- “As much as he deserves? Pause there, Morocco… As much as I deserve? Why, that’s the lady.” (2.7.23-4,31) -and eventually settling on the golden casket because he would gain “what many men desire” (2.7.37).
Shakespeare in general teaches us plenty of things about love; it is partially why his works are still relevant today. Whether comedy or tragedy, he packs an insane amount of meaning in few words. Love can be such a complicated thing, but it applies to everyone. Morocco’s fate is not a pleasant one, but it offers us a glimpse of honest relationships, regardless of our personal experiences.