Merchant of Venice Essay: The Character of Portia

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The Character of Portia in Merchant of Venice

In his Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare wants the reader to admire Portia, arguably the most powerful character in the play. However, it is easy to mistake the word ‘admiration’ to mean simply a liking of someone’s positive virtues. Rather, we should like Portia because of those things that make her a multi-faceted character. Though she can appear to be an “unlessoned girl,” she is also conniving, manipulative, and powerful. Three examples that effectively show her prowess and as a result win our admiration of her occur during the casket, the trial, and the ring scenes.

One reason why Shakespeare wants us to appreciate Portia is because of the respect that radiates from her during the casket scene. Respect is clearly shown when she follows the prescription of her father’s will, which stipulates that she is to be wed to whoever can successfully figure out the riddle of the caskets and pick the one that has her likeness in it:

I may neither choose who I would nor refuse

who I dislike, so is the will of a living daughter curbed

by the will of a dead father. (I.2.22-24)

Portia realizes that she has little to say in the matter, and nowhere does she hint at not following her father’s wishes and marrying whomever she wants. Portia’s faith to her father is steadfast as she goes through the ritual of entertaining potential suitor over and over again. However, that is not to say that Portia is fond of her predicament, because clearly she is not. When Morocco fails to pick the correct casket and leaves in a distraught manner, she is relieved and exclaims: “A gentle riddance” (II.7.78).

Portia must also be admired for her unwavering love and support of her Bassanio. Whi...

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...tely frees Antonio (and perhaps even Bassanio) and at the same time obliterates Shylock.

Therefore, Portia is a character whom Shakespeare means to be highly admired. She possesses qualities that make her the adoration of some and the envy of others. She is highly skilled at whatever task she undertakes; yet she retains an aura of compassion and a strong sense of commitment. She puts herself on the line for the sake of her Bassanio. On the other hand, when she is crossed - or better yet when something she is endeared to is threatened - she is prepared to unleash a havoc to make things better again.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. 1967. Ed. W. Moelwyn Merchant. The New Penguin Shakespeare. London: Penguin Books, 1996.

- - -. Othello. 1968. Ed. Kenneth Muir. The New Penguin Shakespeare. London: Penguin Books, 1996.
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