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The Merchant of Venice: Analysis of Portia Essay

“Oh, me, the word ‘choose’! 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. Is it not hard, Nerissa, that I cannot choose one nor refuse none? (Act 1 Scene 2 lines 22~25)

“In terms of choice I am not solely led by nice direction of a maiden’s eyes. Besides, the lott’ry of my destiny bars me the right of voluntary choosing. But if my father had not scanted me, and hedged me by his wit to yield myself his wife who wins me by that means I told you, yourself, renowned Prince, then stood as fair as any comer I have looked on yet for my affection” (Act 2 Scene 1 lines 13~24)

– Although Portia wishes to choose the man she loves to marry, she cannot do so, for her father – Cato – had left a will that tells Portia to marry a man that can solve the ‘casket’ game. It is basically where Portia’s suitors have to choose one casket that contains Portia’s portrait amongst the three caskets – one made out of gold, the other two made out of silver and lead. In act 1 scene 2, Portia expresses sympathy for herself, and how she thinks it is a cruel path for her to follow, not being able to marry the man she wishes to spend her life with. Quoting ‘…will of a dead father,’ we can tell that Portia’s father is not alive any longer.

Thus, Portia could, at any time of her favor, break her father’s will and make her own decision – there were not a single obstacle in the way. However, as shown in the encounter with Morocco in act 2 scene 1, Portia follows her father’s will with respect, despite the fact that her freedom is limited. These two quotes show respectively how Portia struggles to take in her father’s will, yet oblige to her respectable father’s will. It has not only proven the fact that she is loyal to her own father, but hinted that Portia is capable of providing loyalty for people she respects.

Observant / Picky “I pray thee, overname them, and as thou namest them I will describe them; and according to my description level at my affection.” (Act 1 Scene 2 lines 35~37)

– Although Portia doesn’t possess the right, or the willingness to ‘pick’ her suitor for husband, she still seems to observe her suitors very carefully, and recall many details of them. The quote stated above sums up how she is confident on observing, and judging people based on her careful observation. Further on in the scene, Nerissa, as Portia requested, calls out some of the names of the suitors – Neapolitan prince, the County Palatine, and the French lord Monsieur Le Bon for instance. Portia analyzes each person based on her first impression and the after impression she gets through conversation. The details Portia provided made me reach the conclusion that she is very observing and careful, even picky time to time.

Caring “What, no more? Pay him six thousand, and deface the bond. Double six thousand and then treble that, before a friend of this description shall lose a hair through Bassanio’s fault. First go with me to church and call me wife, and then away to Venice to your friend! For never shall you lie by Portia’s side with an unquiet soul. You shall have gold to pay the petty debt twenty times over; when it is paid, bring your true friend along.” (Act 3 Scene 2 lines 298~308)

– This is when Bassanio and Portia confirm each other’s love, and promise marriage. After confirming each other’s faith, Bassanio tells Portia about his best friend, Antonio, and that he is in serious trouble – trouble that is even related to him. Specifically, he mentions that Antonio is in debt of money from a Jew moneyloaner, and that Antonio is exposed to penalty that might cost his life. To Bassanio’s remark, Portia expresses deep concern and worry, and directly puts out a solution that she will support financially even over the extend of the debt. Quoting ‘before a friend of this description shall lose a hair through Bassanio’s fault,’ it can be said that Portia is very caring towards Bassanio and his companions, and that she wants to be helpful to people she loves.

Clever “Tarry a little; there is something else. This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood; the words expressly are ‘a pound of flesh.’ Taken then thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh; but in the cutting it, if thou dost shed one drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods are by laws of Venice confiscate unto the state of Venice” (Act 4 Scene 1 lines 304~311)

– With the slight twitch with her tongue, Portia manages to save Antonio’s life. Not the mention the fact that Portia didn’t panic when Shylock was about to dig the knife into Antonio’s heart, but she expressed her professional knowledge in Venetian law, and used it against Shylock’s action to block him out. This quote was not only significant for the sake of saving Antonio’s life, but also hinted at how educated and clever Portia is. If it weren’t for Portia’s intelligence and speed of thinking the logic to counter Shylock’s logic, Antonio wouldn’t have been alive.

Thorough “If you had known the virtue of the ring, or half her worthiness that gave the ring, or your own honor to contain the ring, you would not then have parted with the ring. What man is there so much unreasonable, if you had pleased to have defended it with any terms of zeal, wanted the modesty to urge the thing held as a ceremony? Nerissa teaches me what to believe: I’ll die for’t but some woman had the ring.” (Act 5 Scene 1 lines 199~ 208)

– Portia states the quote above when she tells Bassanio about how disappointed she is, for Bassanio had broken the promise of not parting with the ring that Portia gave him for the first time. Of course, Portia is the one who set this secret trick up against her husband to test his trustworthy, but the words she says are enough to shake Bassanio. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Portia is being cruel, but she is thorough; thorough that she has to make the relationship between her and her husband crystal clear, using any method it takes.

Character Motivations and Objectives:

If we have a look at Portia from the perspective of the whole story, she possesses two major objectives she wishes to accomplish: the first objective is to find a suitor who manages to choose the right casket, and marry the worthy gentleman; the other objective is to help her dear husband save his best friend Antonio from death.

When Portia first makes appearance in the play, she only gives off hints that indicate to her being determined to find herself a worthy suitor, nothing else. It is given in the play that her father is dead, and that he had left a will for Portia on her marriage – will that prevents Portia from marrying whoever she wants, but to put suitors to a riddle to sort out the worthiest. Having no other mentioning about her family except for her dead father, a fact that she does not have a good family at a young age, and that she does want to get married to establish a healthy family can be derived. Also, quoting “O me, the word ‘choose’! 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” (Act 1 Scene 2 lines 22~25), Portia is even struggling to make her way to find herself a worthy suitor. Hence, the factors of Portia wanting a nice family, and the ‘riddle’ her father had left for Portia keeps Portia motivated to reach her objective, which finding a worthy gentleman and establish a healthy family.

When Portia meets Bassanio and Bassanio turns out to be the worthy suitor, Portia’s objective becomes fulfilled; she marries her ‘true love’ and now has a family that she desired. However, she runs into another problem, which soon becomes her objective – save Antonio’s life. At the time, Antonio and Portia have not met yet. However, Portia feels obliged to save the poor friend of her husband from losing his life from Bassanio’s fault.

Quote “”I never did repent for doing good, nor shall not now; for in companions that do converse and waste the time together, whose souls do bear an egal yoke of love, there must be needs a like proportion of lineaments, of manners, and of spirit; which makes me think that this Antonio, being the bosom lover of my lord, must needs be like my lord. If it be so, how little is the cost I have bestowed in purchasing the semblance of my soul from out the state of hellish cruelty” (Act 3 Scene 4 lines 10~21) describes how her care for her husband had extended to caring of Bassanio’s best friend, thus motivating Portia to get herself involved in protecting Antonio’s life. Along the same line, Portia shows signs that there is, in fact, another motivation that Portia is affected when she decides to help Antonio.

“What, no more? Pay him six thousand, and deface the bond. Double six thousand and then treble that, before a friend of this description shall lose a hair through Bassanio’s fault.” (Act 3 Scene 2 lines 298~302) Portia brings up the fact that the reason why Antonio’s life is at risk is partially because of Bassanio’s fault. Portia sees through that if Antonio dies from Bassanio’s fault, her husband would not only grief at the fact that he lost his best friend, but also at the fact that Antonio’s death was his fault. Portia loves Bassanio, therefore Bassanio’s happiness directly relates to Portia’s happiness. Thus, Portia makes effort to keep Bassanio’s social life stable, so that the benefit of Bassanio’s social stability would eventually enrich their love life. Portia acts very wise, and generally acts based upon motivations that would benefit her life – although in process, she ends up helping others as well.

After all Portia goes through within the play, I think Portia does change, although it is in a form of ‘revealing’ more about herself rather than ‘shifting’ from one point to another. When Portia makes her first stance with the objective of getting a legitimate suitor, there is a chance that her character being viewed as a rich, naïve woman who is desperate for a family. However, once she had reached the goal of marrying a worthy man, she reveals her generosity, wisdom and logic and often acts as the ‘problem solver.’

Language:

One thing that I’d call special about the way Portia talks would be that she has the tendency to talk precisely and casually, yet put a lot of meanings and force into her words. This trait is the most distinctive when she disguises herself as the doctor of laws to put Shylock on trial. “Therefore prepare thee to cut off the flesh. Shed thou no blood, nor cut thou less nor more but just a pound of flesh. If thou tak’st more or less than a just pound, be it but so much as makes it light or heavy in the substance or the division of the twentieth part of one scruple, nay, if the scale do turn but in the estimation of a hair – thou diest, and all thy goods are confiscate” (Act 4 Scene 1 lines 323~331) These words are so precise and even intimidating that cuts deep into Shylock’s previous and existing logic at the trial. Shylock, tripped over his own logic and point of emphasis, completely loses confidence he had at the beginning of the trial concerning the ‘law.’ I personally don’t think Portia talks in heavy and uncomfortable manners, nor do I think Portia lacks profession or formality. She possess the very talent that allows her to put incredible amount of significance and power into the swift words she uses. Portia never loses her nobility and pride of her character.


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