“Thus ornament is but the guiled shore
To a most dangerous sea; the beauteous scarf
Veiling an Indian beauty; in a word,
The seeming truth which cunning times put on
To entrap the wisest.”
(Merchant of Venice act 3, sc. 2)
Tips for Use. When you see the truth and others do not. Or rather, when you are capable of discerning through the noise, “the seeming truth which cunning times put on to entrap the wisest.” A glaring, almost amusing, example of an attempt to “entrap the wisest” was the recent republican convention. Rather than repeating what you already know about the convention, I will recall what Gore Vidal wrote in one of his essays, who distinguishes between a Jefferson I, Jefferson I dreamed of a society of honest yeomen, engaged in agricultural pursuits, without large cities, heavy industry, banks and military pretensions. Jefferson II, instead, “so clouded over our innate imperialism that we cannot, to this day, recognize the nature of American society, even as our bombs murder strangers (admittedly leprous) 8,000 miles away.” This was written in 1972 (!) and America is still bombing strangers 8,000 miles away. Which is a recurrent “tribute to the Protestant passion for wanting always to appear to be doing good (particularly when one is robbing the till) that Americans have been constitutionally incapable (double entendre intended) of recognizing the truth about themselves or anyone else.” The reference to leprosy reflects Jefferson’s thought that the black races had started white but, in the unfortunate African climate, had contracted a form of leprosy. And if this appears now absurd, during Jefferson’s times a Dr. Rush was certain that advanced dermatology would one day restore to these dark peoples their lost prettiness.
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In the play. Prior to selecting which basket to choose (the correct basket will entail marrying Portia), Bassanio meditates on some truths which will lead him to discard the gold basket.