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An Exploration Of Shakespeare’s Presentation Of The Character Of Portia In The Merchant Of Venice

2405 words - 10 pages

Throughout the course of this essay I aim to explore the character of Portia and how she is presented by Shakespeare in his play The Merchant of Venice. I feel she is a very strong female character, which went very much against the standing of women at the time the play was written. However, taking into account the fact that Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne, arguably the strongest women in England’s history, the strong female character seems less out of place. I will consider Portia’s role in the play by analysing what I consider to be key scenes which reveal her true character, by exploring her attitudes to, and relationships with, other characters, and comparing her with the other ...view middle of the document...

She describes each of her suitors faults, and all are stereotypical to their nation, for example the German Duke is a heavy drinker, which would have been very humourous to Shakespeare’s English audience of the time, and indeed is to a modern audience too. She shows her wit and intelligence when she describes the Neapolitan Prince, who she feels talks about his horse too much: ‘I am much afeard my lady his mother played false with a smith’
However Portia does show a certain narrow minded intolerance with regard to the Morrocan Prince, by saying:‘if he have the condition of a saint and the complexion of a devil I would rather he shrive me than wive me’. This shows a perhaps less desirable aspect of her character, and makes the reader wonder if, after showing this kind of prejudice, it’s not a similar sort of prejudice which causes her to condemn Shylock at the end of the play, rather than a desire to uphold the law. However, as a modern reader, it is possible that one takes her seemingly prejudiced, racist comments, more seriously than was intended by Shakespeare, because the audience the play was written for would have found such comments amusing rather than insulting. However, one could also argue that she is displaying her ignorance and lack of empathy and compassion through these comments and her attitude to her suitors, which raises the question-can the law be upheld with compassion? I don’t think it can, and i feel the lack of compassion she shows to her suitors undermines the credability of her judgement in the courtroom scene. I feel this possible bigotry is best displayed by what Portia says, after the Morrocan Prince levaes: ‘Draw the curtains, go. Let all of his complexion choose me so’. The Prince himself even picks up on her reservations about his colour, ‘Mislike me not for my complexion’. The casket test is meant to give each contender an equal chance of success or failure regardless of their ethnic background, and Portia, although she upholds this, also shows an almost casual cruelty in her dismissal of the Prince of Morocco, as she obviously does want him to succeed. By contrast, with regard to Bassanio’s choice, she is obviously nervous about him choosing incorrectly: ‘I pray you tarry, pause a day or two before you hazard, for in choosing wrong I lose your company’, meaning she wants him to wait before choosing, so she can spend more time with him, showing her obvious affection for him-he who is the same cultural and ethnic background as herself, again making the audience wonder if Portia is prejudiced against people who are not from the same background as she is. However, she also exhibits her moral fibre again, because as desperate as she is for Bassanio to choose correctly, she says: ‘I could teach you how to choose right, but then I am forsworn, so will I never be ’ which shows she is honourable and loathe to break the rules set down for her. The very fact that the casket which contains her picture is the one...

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