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 worthy doctor.”
“Ah!” said Anthonio, “I am the unhappy cause of these quarrels.”
Portia bid Anthonio not to grieve at that, for that he was welcome notwithstanding; and then Anthonio 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 Anthonio’s life was saved.
And Portia again welcomed Anthonio, and gave him letters which by some chance had fallen into her hands, which contained an account of Anthonio’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 liv’d, he’d
fear no other thing
So sore, as keeping safe Nerissa’s ring.
(By Mary Lamb)
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 conveyed away.
Cymbeline was twice married: his second wife was a wicked, plotting woman, and a cruel stepmother to Imogen, Cymbeline’s daughter by his first wife.