Comparing the Characters, Portia and Helena, in Shakespeare's 'Merchant of Venice' and 'All's Well that Ends Well'

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Shakespeare begins to mature when he creates Portia in the Merchant of Venice, and he shows a peak of maturity through Helena in his problem play, All’s Well That Ends Well. Despite the few years between these two plays and the development of characters during Shakespeare’s maturation period, he makes two very similar female characters. They understand love more than their lovers, and they see potential in the men they have chosen that no one else seems to notice. They exhibit similar character traits, but they use their qualities in different ways to achieve the same purpose. Both Portia and Helena display intelligence, love, and grace in choosing their husbands.

Portia and Helena draw the right husband into their lives through their intelligence. Portia and Helena take a different route in the way they get their husbands. Portia has three pursuers, while Helena has none and acts as Shakespeare’s only female aggressive pursuer. A casket test decides the outcome of Portia’s future husband, and the three different men choose her on an apparently equal basis, but she makes sure Bassanio comes out as the winner by giving him subtle hints that include rhyming words with the correct casket. Neither Portia nor Helena is in a position where they can choose their husband directly because the stipulation of her father’s will for Portia renders her unable to chose a husband on her own, and the lower social class makes Helena ineligible for a man of a higher social class. Nothing will stop these two though, because both are quite strong-willed and independent. Helena remains steadfast and proves herself eligible for Bertram. Her intelligence outweighs any predetermined social standard. She later uses her wit in a commonly used Shakespearea...

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...gh a humiliation that no wife should ever have to tolerate. In redeeming Bertram she matures him to the point that he comes to the realization that Helena completes him, and he chooses to love her in return when he says that he will “love her dearly, ever, ever dearly" (5.3.316).

Portia and Helena demonstrate cleverness, love, and grace in their purest forms. Despite coming from different social classes and different plays, these two women could be easily seen as sisters on paper with their strong, self-determining attitudes. They know how to get the right husband without being too forward and unfair. Each demonstrates love in the most ideal form, as God would have it. Grace pours from their hearts into the lives of those around them that affect others in a positive and lasting manner making these two the ideal women in Shakespearean characters as well as in life.

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