Antonio's flesh, Bassanio begged the learned young counsellor would
endeavour to wrest the law a little, to save Antonio's life. But Portia
gravely answered, that laws once established must never be altered.
Shylock hearing Portia say that the law might not be altered, it seemed
to him that she was pleading in his favour, and he said: 'A Daniel is
come to judgment! O wise young judge, how I do honour you! How much
elder are you than your looks!'
Portia now desired Shylock to let her look at the bond; and when she
had read it, she said: 'This bond is forfeited, and by this the Jew may
lawfully claim a pound of flesh, to be by him cut off nearest Antonio's
heart.' Then she said to Shylock: 'Be merciful: take the money, and bid
me tear the bond.' But no mercy would the cruel Shylock show; and he
said: 'By my soul I swear, there is no power in the tongue of men to
alter me.' 'Why then, Antonio,' said Portia, 'you must prepare your
bosom for the knife': and while Shylock was sharpening a long knife
with great eagerness to cut off the pound of flesh, Portia said to
Antonio: 'Have you anything to say?' Antonio with a calm resignation
replied, that he had but little to say, for that he had prepared his
mind for death. Then he said to Bassanio: 'Give me your hand, Bassanio!
Fare you well! Grieve not that I am fallen into this misfortune for
you. Commend me to your honourable wife, and tell her how I have loved
you!' Bassanio in the deepest affliction replied: 'Antonio, I am
married to a wife, who is as dear to me as life itself; but life
itself, my wife, and all the world, are not esteemed with me above your
life; I would lose all, I would sacrifice all to this devil here, to
Portia hearing this, though the kind-hearted lady was not at all
offended with her husband for expressing the love he owed to so true a
friend as Antonio in these strong terms, yet could not help answering:
'Your wife would give you little thanks, if she were present, to hear
you make this offer.' And then Gratiano, who loved to copy what his
lord did, thought he must make a speech like Bassanio's, and he said,
in Nerissa's hearing, who was writing in her clerk's dress by the side
of Portia: 'I have a wife, whom I protest I love; I wish she were in
heaven, if she could but entreat some power there to change the cruel
temper of this currish Jew.' 'It is well you wish this behind her back,
else you would have but an unquiet house,' said Nerissa.
Shylock now cried out impatiently: 'We trifle time; I pray pronounce
the sentence.' And now all was awful expectation in the court, and
every heart was full of grief for Antonio.
Portia asked if the scales were ready to weigh the flesh; and she said
to the Jew: 'Shylock, you must have some surgeon by, lest he bleed to
death.' Shylock, whose whole intent was that Antonio should bleed to
death, said: 'It is not so named in the bond.' Portia replied: 'It is
not so named in the bond, but what of that? It were good you did so
much for charity.' To this all the answer Shylock would make was: 'I
cannot find it; it is not in the bond.' 'Then,' said Portia, 'a pound
of Antonio's flesh is shine. The law allows it, and the court awards
it. And you may cut this flesh from off his breast. The law allows it
and the court awards it.' Again Shylock exclaimed: 'O wise and upright
judge! A Daniel is come to judgment!' And then he sharpened his long
knife again, and looking eagerly on Antonio, he said: 'Come, prepare!'
'Tarry a little, Jew,' said Portia; 'there is something else. This bond
here gives you no drop of blood; the words expressly are 'a pound of
flesh.' If in the cutting off the pound of flesh you shed one drop of
Christian blood, your lands and goods are by the law to be confiscated
to the state of Venice.' Now as it was utterly impossible for Shylock
to cut off the pound of flesh without shedding some of Antonio's blood,
this wise discovery of Portia's, that it was flesh and not blood that
was named in the bond, saved the life of Antonio; and all admiring the
wonderful sagacity of the young counsellor, who had so happily thought
of this expedient, plaudits resounded from every part of the
senate-house; and Gratiano exclaimed, in the words which Shylock had
used: 'O wise and upright judge! mark, Jew, a Daniel is come to
Shylock, finding himself defeated in his cruel intent, said with a
disappointed look, that he would take the money; and Bassanio, rejoiced
beyond measure at Antonio's unexpected deliverance, cried out: 'Here is
the money!' But Portia stopped him, saying: 'Softly; there is no haste;
the Jew shall have nothing but the penalty: therefore prepare, Shylock,
to cut off the flesh; but mind you shed no blood: nor do not cut off
more nor less than just a pound; be it more or less by one poor
scruple, nay if the scale turn but by the weight of a single hair, you
are condemned by the laws of Venice to die, and all your wealth is
forfeited to the senate.' 'Give me my money, and let me go,' said
Shylock. 'I have it ready,' said Bassanio: 'here it is.'
Shylock was going to take the money, when Portia again stopped him,
saying: 'Tarry, Jew; I have yet another hold upon you. By the laws of
Venice, your wealth is forfeited to the state, for having conspired
against the life of one of its citizens, and your life lies at the
mercy of the duke; therefore, down on your knees, and ask him to pardon
The duke then said to Shylock: 'That you may see the difference of our
Christian spirit, I pardon you your life before you ask it; half your
wealth belongs to Antonio, the other half comes to the state.'
The generous Antonio then said that he would give up his share of
Shylock's wealth, if Shylock would sign a deed to make it over at his
death to his daughter and her husband; for Antonio knew that the Jew
had an only daughter who had lately married against his consent to a
young Christian, named Lorenzo, a friend of Antonio's, which had so
offended Shylock, that he had disinherited her.
The Jew agreed to this: and being thus disappointed in his revenge, and
despoiled of his riches, he said: 'I am ill. Let me go home; send the
deed after me, and I will sign over half my riches to my daughter.'
'Get thee gone, then,' said the Duke, 'and sign it; and if you repent
your cruelty and turn Christian, the state will forgive you the fine of
the other half of your riches.'
The duke now released Antonio, and dismissed the court. He then highly
praised the wisdom and ingenuity of the young counsellor, and invited
him home to dinner. Portia, who meant to return to Belmont before her
husband, replied: 'I humbly thank your grace, but I must away
directly.' The duke said he was sorry he had not leisure to stay and
dine with him; and turning to Antonio, he added: 'Reward this
gentleman; for in my mind you are much indebted to him.'
The duke and his senators left the court; and then Bassanio said to
Portia: 'Most worthy gentleman, I and my friend Antonio have by your
wisdom been this day acquitted of grievous penalties, and I beg you
will accept of the three thousand ducats due unto the Jew.' 'And we
shall stand indebted to you over and above,' said Antonio, 'in love and
Portia could not be prevailed upon to accept the money; but upon
Bassanio still pressing her to accept of some reward, she said: 'Give
me your gloves; I will wear them for your sake'; and then Bassanio
taking off his gloves, she espied the ring which she had given him upon
his finger: now it was the ring the wily lady wanted to get from him to
make a merry jest when she saw her Bassanio again, that made her ask
him for his gloves; and she said, when she saw the ring, 'and for your
love I will take this ring from you.' Bassanio was sadly distressed
that the counsellor should ask him for the only thing he could not part
with, and he replied in great confusion, that he could not give him
that ring, because it was his wife's gift, and he had vowed never to
part with it; but that he would give him the most valuable ring in
Venice, and find it out by proclamation. On this Portia affected to be
affronted, and left the court, saying: 'You teach me, sir, how a beggar
should be answered.'
'Dear Bassanio,' said Antonio, 'let him have the ring; let my love and
the great service he has done for me be valued against your wife's
displeasure,' Bassanio, ashamed to appear so ungrateful, yielded, and
sent Gratiano after Portia with the ring; and then the clerk Nerissa,
who had also given Gratiano a ring, she begged his ring, and Gratiano
(not choosing to be outdone in generosity by his lord) gave it to her.
And there was laughing among these ladies to think, when they got
home, how they would tax their husbands with giving away their rings,
and swear that they had given them as a present to some woman.
Portia, when she returned, was in that happy temper of mind which never
fails to attend the consciousness of having performed a good action;
her cheerful spirits enjoyed everything she saw: the moon never seemed
to shine so bright before; and when that pleasant moon was hid behind a
cloud, then a light which she saw from her house at Belmont as well
pleased her charmed fancy, and she said to Nerissa: 'That light we see
is burning in my hall; how far that little candle throws its beams, so
shines a good deed in a naughty world'; and hearing the sound of music
from her house, she said: 'Methinks that music sounds much sweeter than
And now Portia and Nerissa entered the house, and dressing themselves
in their own apparel, they awaited the arrival of their husbands, who
soon followed them with Antonio; and Bassanio presenting his dear
friend to the lady Portia, the congratulations and welcomings of that
lady were hardly over, when they perceived Nerissa and her husband
quarrelling in a corner of the room. 'A quarrel already?' said Portia.
'What is the matter?' Gratiano replied: 'Lady, it is about a paltry
gilt ring that Nerissa gave me, with words upon it like the poetry on a
cutler's knife; Love me, and leave me not.'
'What does the poetry or the value of the ring signify?' said Nerissa.
'You swore to me when I gave it to you, that you would keep it till the
hour of death; and now you say you gave it to the lawyer's clerk. I
know you gave it to a woman.' 'By this hand,' replied Gratiano, 'I gave
it to a youth, a kind of boy, a little scrubbed boy, no higher than
yourself; he was clerk to the young counsellor that by his wise
pleading saved Antonio's life: this prating boy begged it for a fee,
and I could not for my life deny him.' Portia said: 'You were to blame,
Gratiano, to part with your wife's first gift. I gave my lord Bassanio
a ring, and I am sure he would not part with it for all the world.'
Gratiano, in excuse for his fault, now said: 'My lord Bassanio gave his
ring away to the counsellor, and then the boy, his clerk, that took
some pains in writing, he begged my ring.'
Portia, hearing this, seemed very angry, and reproached Bassanio for
giving away her ring; and she said, Nerissa had taught her what to
believe, and that she knew some woman had the ring. Bassanio was very
unhappy to have so offended his dear lady, and he said with great
earnestness: 'No, by my honour, no woman had it, but a civil doctor,
who refused three thousand ducats of me, and begged the ring, which
when I denied him, he went displeased away. What could I do, sweet
Portia? I was so beset with shame for my seeming ingratitude, that I
was forced to send the ring after him. Pardon me, good lady; had you
been there, I think you would have begged the ring of me to give the
'Ah!' said Antonio, 'I am the unhappy cause of these quarrels.'
Portia bid Antonio not to grieve at that, for that he was welcome
notwithstanding; and then Antonio said: 'I once did lend my body for
Bassanio's sake; and but for him to whom your husband gave the ring, I
should have now been dead. I dare be bound again, my soul upon the
forfeit, your lord will never more break his faith with you.' 'Then you
shall be his surety,' said Portia; 'give him this ring, and bid him
keep it better than the other.'
When Bassanio looked at this ring, he was strangely surprised to find
it was the same he gave away; and then Portia told him how she was the
young counsellor, and Nerissa was her clerk; and Bassanio found, to his
unspeakable wonder and delight, that it was by the noble courage and
wisdom of his wife that Antonio's life was saved.
And Portia again welcomed Antonio, and gave him letters which by some
chance had fallen into her hands, which contained an account of
Antonio's ships, that were supposed lost, being safely arrived in the
harbour. So these tragical beginnings of this rich merchant's story
were all forgotten in the unexpected good fortune which ensued; and
there was leisure to laugh at the comical adventure of the rings, and
the husbands that did not know their own wives Gratiano merrily
swearing, in a sort of rhyming speech, that
... while he lived, he'd fear no other thing
So sore, as keeping safe Nerissa's ring.
During the time of Augustus Caesar, emperor of Rome, there reigned in
England (which was then called Britain) a king whose name was Cymbeline.
Cymbeline's first wife died when his three children (two sons and a
daughter) were very young. Imogen, the eldest of these children, was
brought up in her father's court; but by a strange chance the two sons
of Cymbeline were stolen out of their nursery, when the eldest was but
three years of age, and the youngest quite an infant; and Cymbeline
could never discover what was become of them, or by whom they were
Cymbeline was twice married: his second wife was a wicked, plotting
woman, and a cruel stepmother to Imogen, Cymbeline's daughter by his
The queen, though she hated Imogen, yet wished her to marry a son of
her own by a former husband (she also having been twice married): for
by this means she hoped upon the death of Cymbeline to place the crown
of Britain upon the head of her son Cloten; for she knew that, if the
king's sons were not found, the princess Imogen must be the king's
heir. But this design was prevented by Imogen herself, who married
without the consent or even knowledge of her father or the queen.
Posthumus (for that was the name of Imogen's husband) was the best
scholar and most accomplished gentleman of that age. His father died
fighting in the wars for Cymbeline, and soon after his birth his mother
died also for grief at the loss of her husband.
Cymbeline, pitying the helpless state of this orphan, took Posthumus
(Cymbeline having given him that name, because he was born after his
father's death), and educated him in his own court.
Imogen and Posthumus were both taught by the same masters, and were
playfellows from their infancy; they loved each other tenderly when
they were children, and their affection continuing to increase with
their years, when they grew up they privately married.
The disappointed queen soon learnt this secret, for she kept spies
constantly in watch upon the actions of her daughter-in-law, and she
immediately told the king of the marriage of Imogen with Posthumus.
Nothing could exceed the wrath of Cymbeline, when he heard that his
daughter had been so forgetful of her high dignity as to marry a
subject. He commanded Posthumus to leave Britain, and banished him
from his native country for ever.
The queen, who pretended to pity Imogen for the grief she suffered at
losing her husband, offered to procure them a private meeting before
Posthumus set out on his journey to Rome, which place he had chosen for
his residence in his banishment: this seeming kindness she showed, the
better to succeed in her future designs in regard to her son Cloten;
for she meant to persuade Imogen, when her husband was gone, that her
marriage was not lawful, being contracted without the consent of the
Imogen and Posthumus took a most affectionate leave of each other.
Imogen gave her husband a diamond ring, which had been her mother's,
and Posthumus promised never to part with the ring; and he fastened a
bracelet on the arm of his wife, which he begged she would preserve
with great care, as a token of his love; they then bid each other
farewell, with many vows of everlasting love and fidelity.
Imogen remained a solitary and dejected lady in her father's court, and
Posthumus arrived at Rome, the place he had chosen for his banishment.
Posthumus fell into company at Rome with some gay young men of
different nations, who were talking freely of ladies: each one praising
the ladies of his own country, and his own mistress. Posthumus, who had
ever his own dear lady in his mind, affirmed that his wife, the fair
Imogen, was the most virtuous, wise, and constant lady in the world.
One of those gentlemen, whose name was Iachimo, being offended that a
lady of Britain should be so praised above the Roman ladies, his
country-women, provoked Posthumus by seeming to doubt the constancy of
his so highly-praised wife; and at length, after much altercation,
Posthumus consented to a proposal of Iachimo's, that he (Iachimo)
should go to Britain, and endeavour to gain the love of the married
Imogen. They then laid a wager, that if Iachimo did not succeed in this
wicked design, he was to forfeit a large sum of money; but if he could
win Imogen's favour, and prevail upon her to give him the bracelet
which Posthumus had so earnestly desired she would keep as a token of
his love, then the wager was to terminate with Posthumus giving to
Iachimo the ring, which was Imogen's love present when she parted with
her husband. Such firm faith had Posthumus in the fidelity of Imogen,
that he thought he ran no hazard in this trial of her honour.
Iachimo, on his arrival in Britain, gained admittance, and a courteous
welcome from Imogen, as a friend of her husband; but when he began to
make professions of love to her, she repulsed him with disdain, and he
soon found that he could have no hope of succeeding in his
The desire Iachimo had to win the wager made him now have recourse to a
stratagem to impose upon Posthumus, and for this purpose he bribed some
of Imogen's attendants, and was by them conveyed into her bedchamber,
concealed in a large trunk, where he remained shut up till Imogen was
retired to rest, and had fallen asleep; and then getting out of the
trunk, he examined the chamber with great attention, and wrote down
everything he saw there, and particularly noticed a mole which he
observed upon Imogen's neck, and then softly unloosing the bracelet
from her arm, which Posthumus had given to her, he retired into the
chest again; and the next day he set off for Rome with great
expedition, and boasted to Posthumus that Imogen had given him the
bracelet, and likewise permitted him to pass a night in her chamber:
and in this manner Iachimo told his false tale: 'Her bedchamber,' said
he, 'was hung with tapestry of silk and silver, the story was the proud
Cleopatra when she met her Anthony, a piece of work most bravely
'This is true,' said Posthumus; 'but this you might have heard spoken
of without seeing.'
'Then the chimney,' said Iachimo, 'is south of the chamber, and the
chimney-piece is Diana bathing; never saw I figures livelier expressed.'
'This is a thing you might have likewise heard,' said Posthumus, 'for
it is much talked of.'
Iachimo as accurately described the roof of the chamber; and added: 'I
had almost forgot her andirons; they were two winking Cupids made of
silver, each on one foot standing.' He then took out the bracelet, and
said: 'Know you this jewel, sir? She gave me this. She took it from her
arm. I see her yet; her pretty action did outsell her gift, and yet
enriched it too. She gave it me, and said, she prized it once.' He last
of all described the mole he had observed upon her neck.
Posthumus, who had heard the whole of this artful recital in an agony
of doubt, now broke out into the most passionate exclamations against
Imogen. He delivered up the diamond ring to Iachimo, which he had
agreed to forfeit to him, if he obtained the bracelet from Imogen.
Posthumus then in a jealous rage wrote to Pisanio, a gentleman of
Britain, who was one of Imogen's attendants, and had long been a
faithful friend to Posthumus; and after telling him what proof he had
of his wife's disloyalty, he desired Pisanio would take Imogen to
Milford-Haven, a seaport of Wales, and there kill her. And at the same
time he wrote a deceitful letter to Imogen desiring her to go with
Pisanio, for that finding he could live no longer without seeing her,
though he was forbidden upon pain of death to return to Britain, he
would come to Milford-Haven, at which place he begged she would meet
him. She, good unsuspecting lady, who loved her husband above all
things, and desired more than her life to see him, hastened her
departure with Pisanio, and the same night she received the letter she
When their journey was nearly at an end, Pisanio, who, though faithful
to Posthumus, was not faithful to serve him in an evil deed, disclosed
to Imogen the cruel order he had received.
Imogen, who, instead of meeting a loving and beloved husband, found
herself doomed by that husband to suffer death, was afflicted beyond
Pisanio persuaded her to take comfort, and wait with patient fortitude
for the time when Posthumus should see and repent his injustice: in the
meantime, as she refused in her distress to return to her father's
court, he advised her to dress herself in boy's clothes for more
security in travelling; to which device she agreed, and thought in that
disguise she would go over to Rome, and see her husband, whom, though
he had used her so barbarously, she could not forget to love.
When Pisanio had provided her with her new apparel, he left her to her
uncertain fortune, being obliged to return to court; but before he
departed he gave her a phial of cordial, which he said the queen had
given him as a sovereign remedy in all disorders.
The queen, who hated Pisanio because he was a friend to Imogen and
Posthumus, gave him this phial, which she supposed contained poison,
she having ordered her physician to give her some poison, to try its
effects (as she said) upon animals; but the physician, knowing her
malicious disposition, would not trust her with real poison, but gave
her a drug which would do no other mischief than causing a person to
sleep with every appearance of death for a few hours. This mixture,
which Pisanio thought a choice cordial, he gave to Imogen, desiring
her, if she found herself ill upon the road, to take it; and so, with
blessings and prayers for her safety and happy deliverance from her
undeserved troubles, he left her.
Providence strangely directed Imogen's steps to the dwelling of her two
brothers, who had been stolen away in their infancy. Bellarius, who
stole them away, was a lord in the court of Cymbeline, and having been
falsely accused to the king of treason, and banished from the court, in
revenge he stole away the two sons of Cymbeline, and brought them up in
a forest, where he lived concealed in a cave. He stole them through
revenge, but he soon loved them as tenderly as if they had been his own
children, educated them carefully, and they grew up fine youths, their
princely spirits leading them to bold and daring actions; and as they
subsisted by hunting, they were active and hardy, and were always
pressing their supposed father to let them seek their fortune in the
At the cave where these youths dwelt it was Imogen's fortune to arrive.
She had lost her way in a large forest, through which her road lay to
Milford-Haven (from which she meant to embark for Rome); and being
unable to find any place where she could purchase food, she was with
weariness and hunger almost dying; for it is not merely putting on a
man's apparel that will enable a young lady, tenderly brought up, to
bear the fatigue of wandering about lonely forests like a man. Seeing
this cave, she entered, hoping to find someone within of whom she could
procure food. She found the cave empty, but looking about she
discovered some cold meat, and her hunger was so pressing, that she
could not wait for an invitation, but sat down and began to eat. 'Ah,'
said she, talking to herself, 'I see a man's life is a tedious one; how
tired am I! for two nights together I have made the ground my bed: my
resolution helps me, or I should be sick. When Pisanio showed me