This is the first time we meet the Prince of Morocco. He is the first of three suitors to Portia that will appear in the play. He has sailed to Belmont where Portia lives to try his hand at a game of chance to win her hand in marriage. The game of chance, established by Portia’s father before his death, to ensure that whoever married his daughter was a worthy husband.
Morocco must choose between three caskets (or chests). One made of gold, one of silver and the other of lead. One casket contains a picture of Portia’s face. If Morocco chooses this casket, he wins Portia’s hand in marriage as well as inheriting all her wealth. However if Morocco chooses incorrectly he must vow to leave Belmont immediately and swear an oath never to marry anyone else.
Language and Thought Breakdown
Something to note with this piece is the grand imagery in the language that Morocco employs to make his point. He is a prince and therefore, very eloquent and remains very measured and consistent throughout the opening. It feels planned or prepared, as if Morocco has had to give people this same spiel his whole life.
However, what I really enjoy about this monologue is how the rhythm of the thoughts seem to really shift around “By this scimitar I sear…”. The thought changes come mid- line and there is less punctuation at the ends of sentences, perhaps informing us that he is really starting to get a roll on in pace and energy. It’s almost as if he is getting carried away by how great his own oath is – by the size and scale of it. To me, it is certainly indicative of a character who is larger than life.
This monologue is actually two speeches of Morocco in the same scene, broken up with a piece of text from Portia. To make it one monologue, I’ve taken the liberty of cutting out her speech and a single line of Morocco’s: “Even for that I thank you”: This line is in response to Portia’s and therefore is not a complete line. If performing these two monologues as one, as is written below, I would ignore it.
Let’s take a closer look at the text for other potential clues for performance.
Thought Change: /
Beat Change: Space
Feminine Ending: (F)
Prince of Morocco:
Mislike me not for my complexion, /
The shadow’d livery of the burnish’d sun, /
To whom I am a neighbour and near bred. /
Bring me the fairest creature northward born, /
Where Phoebus’ fire scarce thaws the icicles, /
And let us make incision for your love, /
To prove whose blood is reddest, his or mine. /
I tell thee, lady, this aspect of mine
Hath fear’d the valiant: / by my love I swear
The best-regarded virgins of our clime
Have loved it too: / I would not change this hue, /
Except to steal your thoughts, my gentle queen. /
Therefore, I pray you, lead me to the caskets (F)
To try my fortune. / By this scimitar
That slew the Sophy and a Persian prince
That won three fields of Sultan Solyman, /
I would outstare the sternest eyes that look, /
Outbrave the heart most daring on the earth, /
Pluck the young sucking cubs from the she-bear, /
Yea, mock the lion when he roars for prey, /
To win thee, lady. /
But, alas the while! / (This is the end of the previous line, but still a new beat change)
If Hercules and Lichas play at dice
Which is the better man, / the greater throw
May turn by fortune from the weaker hand: /
So is Alcides beaten by his page; /
And so may I, blind fortune leading me, /
Miss that which one unworthier may attain, /
And die with grieving. /
Prince of Morocco:
Don’t dislike me because of the colour of my skin,
The darkened uniform of the shining sun,
To whom I am a neighbour and closely related.
Bring me the most beautiful white person, born in the North,
Where the sun of God never thaws the ice,
And let us both cut ourselves open for you,
To decide whose blood more red, his or mine.
I’m telling you, my lady, this face of mine,
Has terrified the bravest men, by my love I swear,
The most beautiful virgins of my lands,
Have loved it also. I would not change my colour,
Except to make you think of me, my queen.
So, I beg you, lead my to the caskets,
To try my hand. By this sword,
That killed the ruler of Persia and the Persian prince
That won three battles against Sultan Solyman,
I would outstare the most hostile looking eyes,
Outbrave the most daring person on the planet,
Steal the cubs from the mother-bear while they fed,
Indeed, mock a lion to it’s face while it roars for prey,
Just to win you lady.
But this is terrible!
If Hercules and his servant Lichas play dice, a game of chance
To determine who is the better man, the roll of the dice
May by luck be thrown from the weaker man:
And therefore Hercules is beaten by his servant,
And I might be the same, by dumb luck
Miss out on that which someone less worthy might receive,
And die in unhappiness.
Unfamiliar Words & Phrases
Shadowed: Darkened, like a shadow.
Livery: The uniform or clothing. In other words, the ‘darkened clothing’.
Burnished: Shining like metal.
Fairest: Most beautiful, or most fair skinned.
Near bred: Closely related.
Phoebus: The Roman god of the sun.
Make Incision: To cut open. In other words, to let blood.
Reddest: The suggestion of who had the redder blood is a question of bravery or courage.|
Feared: Frightened / terrified.
Clime: Climate or land.
Scimitar: A sword with a curved blade.
Sophy: The ruler (or Shah) of Persia
Solyman: A different spelling of Suleiman. Also known as Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire who fought against Persia.
Hercules: A Greek hero.
Lichas: Hercules servant or companion.
Alcides: A different name for Hercules.
The beautiful thing about playing a character like The Prince of Morocco is that he comes in, guns blazing with a few killer scenes, does his bit and then is off and can steal a show. It’s a really fun character. I would encourage an actor to take every opportunity on stage to make bold offers and see what lands. Really lean into the imagery of this monologue – it has all the juicy language.
A warning note about a point that I raised on the opening moments of the speech: Because of the consistent rhythm of iambic pentameter, it feels like a prepared speech. While this may be true and it perhaps can feel planned or prepared, the role of the actor is to not play that. It is the skill of an actor to make this speech sound like they are making it up on the spot with words, never spoken before. Give yourself some stimulus to respond to, E.g. A look from Portia that sparks the first line, to help you thrust yourself onto the text. Acting is reacting and even at the very beginning of the monologue, Morocco must be responding to something.
At the very end, I chose not to include the final lines of the scene where in fact, Morocco, despite feeling unnerved by the game of chance, decides to risk it all and take the test. If you would like to finish the monologue on a more positive note, I would look up the original script and add in the extra lines so you can finish with courage and bravery in the face of losing everything. I did not include it as I quite enjoy seeing the character arc journey from ultra confidence to potential disaster but this is certainly something you can play around with.
One thing to keep in mind if you decide to take on this character is that it comes with complex racial politics to understand and negotiate as an actor. The Prince of Morocco is a Moor and therefore, typically a person of African or Middle Eastern origin. If you want to do further reading on this character I encourage you to look into him. There are many essays and articles online that you could refer to. Enjoy!