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All that glisters is not gold

“All that glisters is not gold” is a quote that originated in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. It is commonly used today with the word “glitter” instead of “glisters.” 

The quote is a simple one. It is easy to understand and can apply to various circumstances. Although the Prince of Morocco encounters it in his search to choose the right casket and marry Portia, one might utilize it in everyday life about far more mundane things. 

Shakespeare demonstrates alliteration in this quote. That is the use of the same constant sound at the beginning of multiple words. In this case, “glisters” and “gold” create an additional element of rhythm in the line.

All that glisters is not gold


Important Vocabulary to Know

  • Glisters: archaic way of saying that something is glittering or sparkling. 
  • Gold: the word refers to what the casket is made of and to what is not inside. By choosing what looks like the right option, the Prince of Morocco is disappointed. 


“All that glisters is not gold” Meaning

“All that glisters is not gold” suggests that just because something is glistering or glittering, that doesn’t mean that it is truly made of gold. If one seeks out things in life-based on how they look, they’re going to end up empty-handed, like the Prince of Morocco in The Merchant of Venice. The quote serves as a lesson to the Prince, and to those who would choose as he does, that there is more to a relationship and a woman than what she looks like. 

Where Does Shakespeare Use “All that glisters is not gold?” 

The phrase “all the glisters is not gold” was spoken by the Prince of Morocco in The Merchant of Venice. The phrase appears in Act II, Scene 7, line seventy-three. The Prince is looking at the three caskets he has to choose from. One is gold, one is silvers, and one is made of lead. If he chooses the right one, he will be wed to Portia. When looking at the caskets, he speaks the following: 

This first, of gold, who this inscription bears, 

“Who chooseth me shall gain what many men 

desire”; The second, silver, which this promise carries, 

“Who chooseth me shall get as much as he 

deserves”; 

This third, dull lead, with warning all as blunt, 

“Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he 

hath.” How shall I know if I do choose the right?

In answer to the Prince’s question, Portia responds that her picture will be in the correct casket. If he chooses stoa tone, “then I am yours withal,” she concludes. The Prince tries to analyze the various engravings, asking rhetorical questions regarding the hazards mentioned by the dull lead casket. It’s at the end of the scene that the following lines appear. 

Here is the quote in context

O hell! What have we here? 

A carrion death within whose empty eye 

There is a written scroll. I’ll read the writing: 

All that glisters is not gold— 

Often have you heard that told. 

Many a man his life hath sold 

But my outside to behold. 

Gilded tombs do worms infold. 

Had you been as wise as bold, 

Young in limbs, in judgment old, 

Your answer had not been enscrolled.

 Fare you well, your suit is cold. 

Cold indeed and labor lost! 

Then, farewell, heat, and welcome, frost. 

Portia, adieu. I have too grieved a heart 

To take a tedious leave. Thus losers part.

He decided to open the gold casket and found a written scroll within with the above inscription. It revealed to him that his “suit is cold.” He’s not found the picture of Portia and has therefore lost his chance to marry her. This is something that Portia is not upset about. The scene concludes with her lines: 

A gentle riddance! Draw the curtains, go. 

Let all of his complexion choose me so.


Why Did Shakespeare Use “All that glisters is not gold?” 

Within the story of The Merchant of Venice, readers learn about Portia, a beautiful, virtuous young woman who is bound by the rules of her late father’s will. She is not free to choose who she spends the rest of her life with. Instead, she has to use a lottery system of sorts, concerning three caskets—one composed of gold, another silver, and the final lead. 

The man who chooses the correct casket, with her picture within, will be able to marry her. The quote “all that glisters is not gold” is written on the paper within the gold casket. The Prince of Morocco, driven by his desire for beauty and wealth, chooses the casket, thinking that it best represents Portia. He’s wrong and read the paper out loud. Both he and the Prince of Arragon are dismissed due to their poor choices. 

Later, Portia outwits the will, disguises herself as a male lawyer, and saves Antonia from Shylock. She goes on to marry Bassanio. Most readers will associate Portia with the following lines from her famous speech

The quality of mercy is not strained.

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.


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