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My Perception of Portias Portrayal in the Merchant of Venice

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My Perception of Portia's Portrayal in the Merchant of Venice It is very difficult for a modern audience to see the Merchant of Venice as the Elizabethans did; we see this as a play mostly about Shylock, who is without question the most powerful role in the play, and one of Shakespeare's most fascinating characters. Portia's character is extremely debateable seeing as she is this supposedly innocent young woman who conforms to the patriarchal authority of her husband as well as her dead father, yet somehow manages to defeat the men at their own game in the dramatic trial scene and ring scene, in which she is the one who has the control, despite (or because of) the fact she is in disguise. There are a number of ways of trying to avoid confronting the apparent unpredictability in Portia's character. Portia has borrowed her courtroom clothes from her cousin Bellario in Padua, who is in fact a scholar, and at the end of Act 3 Scene 4, we see that she has also asked Bellario for some notes ('What notes and garments he doth give thee'), which could be her guide in the courtroom scene. You can then argue that the difference between Portia as we saw her earlier and as we see her in the courtroom is caused since 'The quality of Mercy' speech was written for Portia by Bellario and she is merely reading it, and that the same is ...read more.


Portia's rhetorical shift involves removing "mercy" from the realm of legal compulsion, and thus sidestepping his question. By allying "mercy" with "heaven", "God" and "kings", Portia takes it from the created law and makes it part of the metaphysical system which surrounded Renaissance ideology. She no longer has to argue over right and wrong in this individual case ("the justice of your case"), but claims to be dealing with issues of Right and Wrong on a larger scale, even Good and Evil. Read more at Suite101: The Quality of Mercy: Portia's Oration in The Merchant of Venice http://www.suite101.com/content/the-quality-of-mercy-a30269#ixzz15YovCOL7 Portia loses her whole impact in the play if we don't see who she is while she's giving this speech, and she surprises us, as we'd taken Portia for a bit of an dismissive and ignorant woman as is shown when she is mocking her suitors with Nerissa - 'How oddly he is suited!', whereas now we suddenly realize how intelligent she is. More intelligent than she realizes herself, I believe. Although Portia herself is almost a deus ex machina in the courtroom, since she has not been involved in the Shylock plot at all [previously, and we have had no previous reason to even suspect that she had any legal expertise (which to me does seem like a genuine flaw in the plot), I think that there is no other character available who could present the winning arguments in the courtroom in the same way. ...read more.


The one thing we see for sure from her comments in Act 1 is that she is definitely intelligent (or, at the very least, clever). And the fact that Portia surprises us in the courtroom scene and shows an unexpected depth is, in my opinion, part of what would have made the play comic. If the previous acts had shown Portia as wise and super-competent, then as I see it, the courtroom scene wouldn't have worked. In this case, watching Portia defeat Shylock would have been almost an unfair fight. Portia, like so many women, appears to be the victim of the belief that it's not a good thing for women to be intelligent. She downplays her intelligence at the start of the play, hidden it even from herself, allowed herself to express it only in socially acceptable forms, such as sarcastic banter. Her destiny is even controlled by her dead father, still a victim of her father's patriarchal authority and control. When there is the moment when she really needs that intelligence, and she has the right to use it because she is disguised as a man. To be acceptable to an Elizabethan audience, and even to a modern one, you need the comedy to disguise the feminism, which I believe is what Shakespeare was trying to do in his portrayal of Portia. ...read more.

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