A 21st Century View of Shakespeare’s Portia in The Merchant of Venice
Yousma Sajad
Heroine, will, disguise, moneylending, wit, marriage, gender discrimination
The Merchant of Venice is a 16th-century comedy written by William Shakespeare, in which a merchant in Venice named Antonio defaults on a large loan provided by a Jewish moneylender, Shylock. Portia is a rich, gracious, charming, beautiful, intelligent and quick-witted heiress of Belmont; her only weakness is being a woman in the 16th century, which she quite wittily doesn’t let get in her way of being the heroine and the main protagonist of the play. She is bound by the lottery set forth in her father's will, which gives potential suitors the chance to choose between three caskets composed of gold, silver and lead. If they choose the right casket – the casket containing Portia's portrait and a scroll – they win her hand in marriage. If they choose the incorrect casket, they must leave and never seek another woman in marriage. Portia is glad when two suitors, one driven by greed and another by vanity, fail to choose correctly, although she demonstrates tact to the Princes of Morocco and Arragon, who unsuccessfully seek her hand. She favours Bassanio, a young Venetian noble, and using her wit and intelligence, she does end up getting married to him. Later in the play, she disguises herself as a man, then assumes the role of a lawyer's apprentice (named Balthazar) whereby she saves the life of Bassanio's friend, Antonio, in court. In the court scene, Portia finds a technicality in the bond, thereby outwitting the Jewish moneylender Shylock and saving Antonio's life from the pound of flesh demanded when everyone else including the Duke presiding as judge and Antonio himself fails. Shylock leaves the trial with both his life and his job intact but retains only half of his money and is deprived of his identity on being forced to convert to Christianity, while his daughter Jessica and her husband Lorenzo with whom she had previously eloped are found in Portia's castle in complete happiness. Portia and Bassanio, on the other hand, continue to live together along with the former's lady-in-waiting Nerissa and her husband Gratiano.
Article Details
Unique Paper ID: 153530

Publication Volume & Issue: Volume 8, Issue 7

Page(s): 403 - 408
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