The Merchant of Venice Act 1 Scene 2 ICSE Board Exam Questions and Answers

Question 1 : Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow.

Portia :

O me, the word 'choose'! I may neither choose whom I would, 

nor refuse whom I dislike; so is the will of a living daughter

curbed by the will of a dead father.

i) Where are Portia and Nerissa? Why are they there?

Answer : Portia and Nerissa were in a room in Portia’s house in Belmont. They were present there to discuss the initial terms of Portia’s dead father’s will which had made Portia weary of the world around her. Many suitors came to Portia but she couldn’t choose any of them by herself as it would not fulfill the condition given in her father’s will.

ii) State in your own words what Portia means by “the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead father.’

Answer : Shakespeare has used a pun on ‘will’ very aptly in these lines. Portia says that the will of a living daughter (which means her wishes) are controlled by the legal will of a dead father, which means her father’s testaments. She cannot choose her husband according to her wishes but must follow her father’s will to inherit the fortune left behind by him.

iii) Immediately after this extract, what reasons does Nerrisa give to Portia to justify “the will of a dead father”? Do you think that the justification proved correct? Give reasons for your answer.

Answer : Portia’s father had made a will that Portia could not choose her own husband but her husband must win her by choosing the right casket out of three. Nerissa defended Portia’s father by saying that he was a virtuous man and such people got odd ideas on their deathbeads. She also assured her that her father devised the will so that Portia would get a man who deserved her and no one else. It proved correct as Portia got married to Bassanio, the man she loved.

iv) Towards the end of the scene, Portia affirms that she must abide by “the will of a dead father”. What does she say? From what she says, what opinion do you form of her?

Answer: Portia says that even if she lived like Sibylla, a mythological woman with a very long life, she would die a virgin like Diana, the goddess of virginity, unless someone won her according to her father’s will. Her words and determination to follow her father’s will show that she respected her father’s wishes very much. She was a caring daughter who did not want to go against her father even after his death.

v) Earlier, in what way did Nerissa try to cheer Portia? What was Portia’s reaction to what Nerissa had said?

Answer : Portia says that she has grown tired of the world. Nerissa tells Portia that she would surely be miserly if her problems were as abundant as her fortunes but that was not so. Nerissa further claims that she has seen people that have too much suffering like all others who have nothing. To be happy, one must try to live comfortably between the two extremes i.e. riches and poverty, meaning that having moderate means is preferable. Portia says that the words were nice and very aptly said. However, she feels that one is not able to apply them to life in reality.

Question 2 : Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow.


If I live to be as old as Sibylla, I will die as chaste as Diana,

unless I be obtained by the manner of my father's will. I am glad

this parcel of wooers are so reasonable; for there is not one

among them but I dote on his very absence; and I pray God

grant them a fair departure.

i) Why does Portia say that she would “die as chaste as Diana”?

Answer: Diana, according to Roman mythology, is the Goddess of Chastity. Portia mentions her name saying that she will die a virgin like Diana if no suitor is able to fulfill the condition of her father’s will.

ii) Why is Portia unsettled by the attention of the wooers that have the intention of marrying her?

Answer: There have been many suitors who have tried to win Portia. However, many of them have tried not to choose any of the caskets as the hazards of failing were very high. Portia considers herself fortunate enough because none of the suitors lingers around her and also she doesn’t like any of them.

iii) What does Nerissa say to cheer her up? How does she prove to be a good companion?

Answer: Nerissa is a comforting ally of Portia. She knows that the casket test haunts Portia, for she fears that some non-deserving suitors might become lucky and win her. Nerissa says that she need not worry about nay of the suitors whom she doesn’t like, as many of them dare not take the test. Nerissa proves to be a good companion who tried to make Portia see the brighter side of things.

iv)  Whom does Nerissa mention next that lifts Portia’s spirits up? Was he the right suitor for Portia?

Answer: As the scene is about to end, Nerissa mentions a man that came to Belmont when Portia’s father was alive. It was none other than Bassanio. She praises him and says that he was the only man Nerissa found deserving of her mistress. Portia mentions that she remembers him very well and thinking of him elates her spirits.

v) Explain the words, “If I live to be as old as Sibylla”.

Answer: Sibylla refers to Sibyl of Cume. According to Roman mythology, Sibyl was a prophet. Sibyl of Cume was granted by Apollo, a Roman God, as many years of life as there were sand grains in her hand. Portia also refers to her as a traditional old woman. Portia means to say that she would grow old as Sibylla and die a virgin but not marry a man who is not able to win her through the conditions laid by her father.