10 Famous and Fascinating Sealed Boxes Part 2

About 10 famous and fascinating sealed boxes in history including boxes of Pandora and Henry the Fifth.



The dilemma of relying upon blind luck to choose the right box faced Bassanio in William Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice. The glittering prize was Portia, a beautiful and intelligent woman with an immense dowry. The trial of chance was to pick the sealed box that contained her portrait. The forfeit, if the choice was incorrect, was to leave the country immediately and remain single forever. There were three caskets from which to choose--one of gold, one of silver, and one of lead--and each one carried an inscription. Although Bassanio had originally entered the contest purely for material gain, he was now in love with Portia and desperately wanted to make the right choice. The fact that so much was at stake provided the solution to his dilemma. The inscription for the lead box read, "Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath." Bassanio reasoned that this reflected his own predicament. Amid mounting tension, he opened the lead box and found Portia's portrait inside. He had staked all and won the prize.


One of the most bizarre relics ever to have been locked in a box now rests in an unknown spot on the grounds of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. On the red silk lining of this oak box lies the embalmed head of Oliver Cromwell, first and only dictator of England. Buried in state in 1658, Cromwell's body was disinterred two years later, when public opinion turned against him. His head was severed from his torso and impaled on a spike lashed to the roof of Westminster Hall. In 1685 a gale blew the head down, and after many changings of hands it arrived in the possession of Canon Wilkinson, who used to take pride in displaying the head--complete with an iron spike projecting through the top of the skull and the remains of a wooden post serving as a display handle. On Canon Wilkinson's death, his son offered it to Sidney Sussex College, whose trustees decided to give it a proper burial in its original box. The exact whereabouts of the box remains a secret, but an oval plaque to the left of the chapel entrance reads: "Near to this place was buried on 25 March 1960 the head of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. Fellow Commoner of this college 1616-1617."


One of the most famous locked boxes in the history of song is the jewel box in the opera Faust, written in 1859 by the French composer Charles Francois Gounod. The opera is based upon the legend popularized by Christopher Marlowe and Johann von Goethe, in which Faust forfeits his soul to the devil (Mephistopheles) in exchange for 24 years of power and pleasure. To gratify one of Faust's desires, Mephistopheles procures for him a young and innocent girl named Margaret. Mephistopheles places a box of jewels in a garden and arranges for Margaret to discover it. When she unlocks the box, she is overwhelmed by the beauty of the gems and cannot resist the temptation of trying on each valuable piece and admiring herself. Faust enters the garden, and Margaret, enraptured both by his attentions and the jewels, readily agrees to a second meeting. But her joy is short-lived. Faust seduces her with promises to stay with her forever and then, as a part of his pact with the devil, abandons her in search of new experiences. The jewel box is merely a lure and Margaret a transitory moment in Faust's quest for ever greater pleasures.

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