Among the various themes presented in the Merchant of Venice the most important is the nature of true love. The casket plot helps illustrate the theme. Through a variety of suitors the descriptions of the caskets, Shakespeare shows the reader how different people view true love. He also shows what is most important to the suitors and in some cases it is not true love, but material things and outward appearance.
The first suitor who tries to win Portia’s hand is the Prince of Morocco. When he first arrives in Belmont, the reader can see how arrogant the prince is, He says, “The best regarded virgins of our clilme/ hath loved it too” (2.1, 10-11). He is referring to the color of his ski n that is black. He is telling Portia that his complexion has won him many women and he is dressed in all white. The fact that he is, suggests that he is only concerned with outward appearance, and not with more important things such as true love. The Prince of Morocco’s superficial nature shines through even more clearly when it comes time to choose the casket. He does not want to risk anything, and therefore; he does not choose the lead casket whose inscription tells the suitor he must give up everything. The Prince, after looking at the inscription of the gold casket, which read “‘who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire'” (2.7, 37), decides that what he desires most is the Portia’s hand so the gold must be the correct casket. He insists that the gold casket is the one holding Portia’s picture because she is so much worthier than the lead casket. The Prince believes that because many men desire Portia, the gold casket must be the correct one. When the Prince opens the casket, he finds a skull and a scroll, not Portia’s picture. The scroll warns, “all that glitters is not gold” (2.7,66) and that wealth is not the most important thing. The Prince, having shallow reasoning only wanted to marry Portia because of her wealth. He leaves, having promised, as all the suitors had, to remain celibate if he should pick the wrong casket. Portia then awaits the next suitor who will try to win her hand in marriage.
The Prince of Arragon, the next suitor to try his hand at choosing the correct casket, is not much better than the previous. As his name suggests, the Prince is quite arrogant and vain. When he reads the inscription on the gold casket, he comments that the ‘many’ men are most likely those who “choose by showe”(2.9,27). He says he will not choose the gold casket because he is not like everyone else; he is better than the others are. He looks at he inscription on the silver casket: “‘who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves'” (2,9,37). After reading this he assumes that he deserves the best and chooses the silver casket. The Prince opens the casket and finds a picture of a fool and a scroll that read, “with one fool’s head I came to woo/But I go away with two.”(2.9, 78-79). He received nothing, but a fool’s head, which is all that he deserved due to his cocky, self-involved attitude.
Although the previous suitors wanted to marry Portia, she does not like the fact that her father had placed her in a situation where she cannot marry whomever she loves. In the third act of Merchant Bassanio arrives at Belmont. Portia shows that she loves him and tells him to delay his choice so he will not have to leave too soon. He tells Bassanio, “one half of me is yours, the other half yours-“(3.2, 16). She is telling him that she is solely his that every part of her is his, showing her sincere love for him. Bassanio also loves Portia very much and therefore will do anything to win her hand. He is very anxious to examine the caskets and when he does, he decides against both the gold and silver caskets. When he sees the lead casket, he says that even though it is plain, he chooses this casket. When he opens the casket, he finds Portia’s picture and a scroll. “You that choose not by view/ chance as fair and choose as true” (3.2 134-5). It says that because Bassanio did not allow the appearance of the casket influence his decisions, he received the greatest prize: Portia. Bassanio was the most intelligent out of all the suitors because he did not let outward appearance influence him. He only allowed Portia and her love for him influence his decision. He was willing to risk everything he had for her hand in marriage. The fact that he was even considering taking this chance shows his unconditional love for Portia. The inscription on the lead casket said that whoever chose that casket must, “give and hazard all he hath.” (2.9,22). Bassanio did not care how threatening the inscription seemed, because he would risk all he had for his love with Portia. Portia, who loves Bassanio just as truly as he loves her, is extremely happy that he has chosen the correct casket. Now she can marry someone that she really loves and does not have to marry just any man who proves himself through other ways, she gets to marry the one she loves. She was not happy with the whole idea of the caskets in the first place, but is now happy that she can marry her true love. A right that now person should ever be denied.
Throughout the Merchant of Venice, while Portia is being courted, the reader can see that she does not like any of the suitors, except Bassanio. She finds a flaw in all the suitors and reader, as well, can see the flaws in each as they present themselves to her. Her true love, however, is for Bassanio and she wants to marry him. Bassanio, by choosing to risk everything he has, shows the effects that true love can have on someone. True love can conquer any fears or apprehensions you may have. He was willing to risk everything he had in order to show his love for Portia. In the play, Bassanio shows what true love really means and how one can not mistake outward appearances for true love. Put succinctly, one can do nothing but agree with the adage love conquers all.