Portia is, in my opinion, the most interesting character in ‘The Merchant of Venice’. She has two sides, kind of like a split personality. One minute she’s helping people and being nice to them, then next she’s back stabbing them and treating them like they are below her in some way. Portia makes us feel different emotions for her throughout the play. At some parts she makes us dislike her, others like her, others feel sorry for and even sometimes feel admiration for her. This makes reading about her very interesting as she never fails to entertain us and make us feel her as a real person.
She can seem like an attractive woman, but at other times she makes us see her as the most unattractive person in the whole play. She has in many scenes, a devious side to her character. During the Court scene, she plays by the rules, other to her advantage. She plays devious tricks to win things over on her side. She shows great intelligence which is not something she could show as a woman at that time. This is why it is such a great achievement for her to win the court case as she is in disguise as a man.
To her, it is a great personal achievement, especially as she has never studied law, she just played it to how she wanted, without breaking the rules. It is a remarkable stunt to pull, and she did it well with a little help from her maid Nerissa. The court scene is the most interesting scene in the play, and she is involved in a big way. She is disguised as a man, which makes us wonder throughout, will she win? Of course we discover she does, which is a wonder as it would be very difficult to do so without any degrees in law.
Portia plays a dangerous game of what seems to be ‘cat and mouse’ with Shylock in the all important court scene. She knows there is a catch in Shylock’s bond all along, and is waiting to catch him out. “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’. Take 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 Unto the state of Venice. ” Portia has caught Shylock out.
She has revealed he can have the pound of flesh he wants, and he is overjoyed to hear this, but then she reveals that he must not let Bassanio bleed one drop of blood. This is impossible and Shylock knows it, and the penalty is that all his land and possessions go to the Venice state. She has the upper hand at this point, and it looks as though she will win the case. It is a surprise in this scene though, that Portia can be so generous with money, and yet be so mean to Shylock. She is a mixture of good and bad in this instance, which can confuse you a little as to what her motives for being so mean are.
Maybe she is just racist against Jews, or maybe she is just trying to fool her husband into thinking she is a good person for lending money but, being mean to the Jew who he hates. Or it could just be because Shylock wants flesh from her husband, this could help us understand why she gives him such a hard time. Whatever her intentions, it keeps us all interested in her attractive and unattractive character throughout the entire scene. There are many factors which makes us dislike Portia, and make her seem like an ugly character. She does trick many people, including her own husband.
To test her husbands true love for her, she asks for the ring she gave him as a present, whilst he thinks she is the lawyer. This is a cruel trick, it puts Bassanio in a very difficult situation. If he gives the ring away then it would be betraying his wife, but if he doesn’t give the ring to the ‘lawyer’, then he wouldn’t be being respectful and granting the lawyer’s wish for a payback for helping him. She puts Bassanio in the most uncomfortable situation, and she watches as he decides what to do. It is a test of love, but an unfair one.
She doesn’t seem to care that it is a very difficult decision, all she cares about is what Bassanio will do, or rather who he will choose. “I would lose all, ay, sacrifice them all Here to this devil, to deliver you. ” “Your wife would give you little thanks for that If she were by to hear you make the offer. ” Here Bassanio is talking to Portia, but he doesn’t know it is she. He is saying he would sacrifice his wife for his friend Antonio, and Gratiano agrees with him. But what they don’t know is that they are telling their wives, and we know they are.
It is a cruel thing for Portia to stand there and act as if she agrees because Bassanio will never know the truth. We can also feel admiration for Portia though. She had the courage to become a lawyer for the trial, and she played it well. Not one other character suspected she was not sincere, which makes us feel as if she is somebody to be proud of, or to look up to. She is a clever woman, she had to pretend to be a man in front of a whole court room, and she managed to do it, and do it well. What is even more amazing, is that Portia does win the case.
It is a feat which not many could do without needing some sort of education in the matter. Instead of studying and reading books for years, she used her intelligence and her integrity, and kept her wits about her. It worked, and she won the case fair and square. She can be seen as a strong character too, she manages to keep her composure when her husband gives the ring away. Whether or not it was her wish for him to choose, it was strong of her to act as if it didn’t bother her. She could be seen as a role model in a way, she has an aim, and she works until she gets it.
That shows true determination. In some ways, we can also feel sorry for her. She has to live by a strict routine left by her Father. She must obey by his rules, even if she doesn’t agree with 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. ” Her Father left his will of Portia to have to accept who to marry once they had chosen the correct casket. She has no involvement in the choosing, therefore she is unhappy that she could be married to somebody she doesn’t love, or worse, not even like.
It is a hard situation for Portia as she could end up married to an ugly suitor, or somebody completely the opposite to her. She is worried he will be incompatible, and she could be right. After all of this, she believes that Bassanio loves her, which makes the choosing process even harder to cope with. It is difficult, as she could marry a man when she is in love with another. We can pity her in this scene, but when Bassanio comes to choose a casket, Portia does cheat a little, by giving him hints as to which casket to choose.
Portia is most of the time a mean person, especially to her suitors and to Shylock during the trial. She makes unkind remarks about her suitors when they arrive to choose a casket. The men have come to try and win her hand in marriage, but she sees the bad side to all of them, and takes them at face value, which is not a good trait to have. Another harmless character who she manages to get her claws out at, is Jessica. She offers her no support when she finds out she has run away from her Jewish Father. As Jessica is Jewish, Portia sees her as a person below her, just like Shylock.
Even though Jessica is willing to convert to Christianity for her soon to be husband Lorenzo, Portia ignores this and treats her like any other Jew. She can also be a little rude, sometimes to her own maid, Nerissa. We can see Portia is much more interesting than Nerissa, but maybe that is only because we are not told anything about Nerissa’s past. She is just a side character. I think Portia expects Nerissa to agree with everything she says, even when she is wrong. The play involves many plots, but I think what much of it comes down to, is racism. Portia lays a huge part in being racist, especially with her suitors.
She sees the Prince of Morocco as being black, so she purposely hints for him to choose the wrong casket, without giving him a chance to show his true self. It is unfair of her to assume he is a bad person just from his colour, but she doesn’t just do this to him. “A gentle riddance! Draw the curtains, go. Let all of his complexion choose me so. ” This is an unfair comment to make about his colour, especially just after he has chosen the wrong casket. She treats Jews the same. We can see this in the trial of Shylock, and if he wasn’t a Jew, she may have treated him slightly better.
Her character is the most interesting in the entire story I feel, she has many sides to her, and it makes every scene more interesting as we never know what she will do and how she will react to certain situations. She is a funny character sometimes too. Her collection of suitors amuses us, and amuses her too. She makes every act seem like a different character as she is so different all the time. I like the character of Portia, although sometimes she can be so cruel you can even hate her then like her again, as if by the switch of a button.