The majority of stories have a hero or heroine, as does “the merchant of Venice” by William Shakespeare, in some ways most of the main characters, bar Shylock, could be perceived as a hero. After all the play is actually named after Antonio, he is the merchant of Venice. The play is based in seventeenth centaury Venice, where a merchant called Antonio is based; his friend Bassanio needs to borrow money from him to impress a “lady richly left” called Portia who lives in Belmont.
Antonio has no Money to lend him as all his ships are at sea, so he tells Bassanio to borrow money against his name from a Jewish moneylender called Shylock, who happens to be Antonio’s Enemy. A bond is forged where if the money is not repaid in enough time Shylock will get one pound of Antonio’s flesh. Meanwhile Shylock’s daughter Jessica and Antonio’s friend Lorenzo elope with most of Shylock’s money and jewels, to the displeasure and expense of her farther.
Bassanio gets his girl Portia after an encounter with a test left by Portia’s late father to assure the safety of her daughter, they marry and all is good, until none of Antonio’s ships return and he is unable to repay Shylock. There is a lengthy court battle, chaired by the duke of Venice and overlooked by a disguised Portia who had been coached by a friend of hers who was a lawyer and was recommended to the duke by a letter written by him, where eventually, Shylock’s claim is overthrown and Antonio Triumphs, with the help of Portia.
In my mind, Portia is the real hero, or rather heroine of the play. She plays an integral role in three of the four sub-plots in the play the caskets, the rings and the bond. So if looked at subjectively, Portia is the most influential character of the play, and since she is not perceived as a villain, that would give her the prime hero credentials. One role Portia fulfils that is often overlooked is that she is the cause for the bond between Antonio and Shylock.
She is the “lady richly left” who Bassanio tries to woo, and is the reason he asks for money from Antonio, who borrows from Shylock and the bond is forged. Although she is the reason for all the strife, she is blissfully unaware of that fact, but she feels obliged to help her husband best friend to renounce the usurer’s claim to a pound of flesh from Antonio’s breast. She successfully finds a loophole in the bond on exploits it to the fullest extent, overthrowing Shylock in a spectacular fashion devastatingly deflating his ego and gaining genuine heroine status.
Another point that shines in Portia’s favor is that she manages to topple the bond between Antonio and Shylock despite being a woman; women in the seventeenth century weren’t educated to the extent men where, the average woman didn’t have any education. But Portia received a better education than most because she was wealthy, but she did not have the choice to go for further education, she could read, write and had some mathematical and historical knowledge but that was it. So it is quite surprising that Portia managed to achieve so much in a patriarchal courtroom, only men where allowed in the courtroom at this time.
It was demeaning for Portia to walk into the courtroom to have to disguise herself to get into the courtroom. But she triumphs over adversary, which is another heroine quality she possesses. Probably the most famous and important words uttered by Portia in the Play are “tally a little,” this is where the plot totally turns to Antonio’s favor and this is all because of Portia. She also exerts her power over all the other characters in the courtroom, most notably Shylock but also The Duke as he pulls the wool over his eyes by pretending to be a lawyer where she actually is no such thing.
This is the scene where she again undoubtedly proves her heroine quality. Undoubtedly Portia is blatantly discriminated against, by todays standard, in the play, but that was the way of the time and no one was looking at it like it was a problem. It was accepted in those days that women should marry, were not allowed in courtrooms and so on. Portia is also in some way oppressed by her dead father, he would not let her chose her own husband, he had denied her “the right of voluntary choosing,” but luckily the man she loved chose the right casket an won the right to marry her.
She personally feels oppressed by this she says, “the lottery of my destiny bars me the right of voluntary choosing,” she does not admit to feeling belittled by anything else so her wording is a very clear indication of how she feels. Portia undoubtedly proves herself as one of Shakespear’s strongest characters and proves her worth in the play. She more than holds her own in the tense situations she gets put in and triumphs over her enemies. By doing this I believe that she proves herself a worthy heroine of the play.