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In act 1 scene 2 of the Merchant of Venice, Portia gives a speech that is built on a series of metaphors. These metaphors progress from a broader theme of doing good to metaphors that connect to Portia’s own situation of choosing a husband. The first two metaphors, are that a “good divine (preacher) is one that follows his own instruction” and that it is easier to teach twenty people to do good than to actually do good myself (Shakespeare 1.2.14). Portia givings wise advice through her speech, however Portia herself doesn’t take the advice she is giving, which is what the two metaphors are illustrating (for the first one, Portia is the preacher).
These metaphors lead to others that connect closer to Portia’s current situation.
The next two lines illustrate Portia’s conflict between her own free choice and her father’s will by saying that the mind creates laws of “cold decree”. Portia’s father was the mind that set the cold reasoning for how Portia should find a worthy husband and he did this by creating the game of the three chests.
The metaphor continues to say that “hot temper” cuts through or “leaps” over the “cold decree” (Shakespeare 1.2.18). Portia has the hot temperament which also represents her own desire to choose a husband she loves. The word choice of “hot temper leaps o’er a cold decree” hints that a hot emotions may cause Portia to want to bypass her father’s solid, cold reasoning, however the heat of the emotions may die out which may also cause Portia to make rash or poor decisions (Shakespeare 1.
The next metaphor carries on this main idea by setting the scene of a “cripple,” or old man trying to catch a “hare” (Shakespeare 1.2.19). The hare is compared to the “youth” and how good advice is like a old man trying to catch a fast hare (Shakespeare 1.2.19-20). The hare “skips” over the good advice (“good counsel”) of the older (Shakespeare 1.2.19-20). This illustrates that good advice is lost of the young which in this case is Portia who is trying to “skip” over her father’s good advice of the boxes (Shakespeare 1.2.19). In lines 18-19, the word choice of “leaps o’er” and then “skip o’er” helps to link the two different metaphors and to make the meaning behind the two connect (Shakespeare 1.2.18-19). They show that the hot tempered, youth doesn’t listen or follow the advice of the old, and that they “leap” or “skip” over the “cold decree” and “good counsel” (Shakespeare 1.2.18-20).
The use of the word “cripple” in line 20 gives a negative feeling to how Portia is describing the old man and the good advice (Shakespeare 1.2.20). Portia, who is young, seems to not think highly of the advice given to her by someone who is older and wiser, which fits into the negative sense that was given with the metaphor but also proves what the metaphor is referring to. Her father, who is wiser and older, wanted Portia to have a worthy husband so he created the chests as a test, he was trying to guide his young, ignorant daughter. Portia however says that that “reasoning” is not the way to pick her husband (Shakespeare 1.2.20). This shows Portia’s ignorance and inability to take her fathers advice or her own advice that she represented in her speech before. Portia says she is caught between the “will of a dead father” and the “will of a living daughter” (Shakespeare 1.2.23-24). This is the same theme as mentioned earlier involving the metaphors in lines 17-20. The word choice of “will” contains a double meaning of her dead father’s last “will” and testament and her own living, free “will’ or desires. Shakespeare uses this double meaning to make a pun in the play (Shakespeare 1.2.23-24). This pun and the other metaphors add onto Portia’s unwillingness to see or take her fathers advice.
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