As we watch and read The Merchant of Venice, our feelings and opinions change. Write about the way in which Shakespeare plays on our feelings throughout the play.

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As we watch and read “The Merchant of Venice”, our feelings and opinions change. Write about the way in which Shakespeare plays on our feelings throughout the play.

The Merchant of Venice is classified as both an early Shakespearean comedy and as one of the Bard's problem plays; it is a work in which good triumphs over evil. This well- known narrative contains several literary techniques, which Shakespeare uses to change our views and opinions about Portia. He applies misrepresentation of Portia by stating Bassanio’s perceptions of her as “just”; against the cruel, unfair comments made by her towards her suitors: “colt”. Her actions tend to contradict their values, for example her lack of respect towards her “renowned suitors” contrasts with her act as a heroine - as the “(disguised) lawyer”. Being a woman so strong and capable of defeating the opposition at the time meant that the Elizabethan audience would have admired her. This was the time where much prejudice was prominent. It was still a patriarchal society where female figures were looked down on (although England had a ruling queen). Therefore by having a woman as a hero inevitably meant that feelings of respect and high regards were aroused amongst the audience towards Portia.

The playwright employs many literary techniques to describe the character. In Act 1 Scene 1, Shakespeare employs positive adjectives in Bassanio’s speech where he states Portia to be “wondrous” and “fair.” By using positive adjectives, it creates an optimistic reflection of Portia in the audience’s mind. He further adds repetition to the adjectives; he repeats the word “fair” several times to emphasize how good she is. This is also done so the words sticks in the viewer’s mind, thus the audience see a positive image of her for longer. Shakespeare illustrates Portia to have “renowned suitors”, which depicts the fact that people of high status love her and therefore suggesting that she is of high worth.  In addition, Shakespeare uses the metaphor of “Jason and the Argonauts”; where he likens her hair to the “Golden Fleece” that Jason sought, and adds "...Many Jasons come in quest of her." This illustrates the fact that many men put their futures at risk in an attempt to get her, indicating that she is significant and highly commendable. Furthermore, Shakespeare uses hyperbole – especially when he declares Portia to be “fairer than that word.” This implies that she is fairer than the ‘Bible’ suggesting that she is honest and a Godly woman. This technique reinforces the positive portrayal of Portia.

Similarly, at the beginning of Act 1Scene 2, Portia remains to be a good character in the audience’s eyes acting as a dutiful “daughter” - compelled to accept her “dead father('s)” wishes, when she could have merely ignored them, and as a result, this shows her to be obedient. The terms of her father's “will” leave her without any choice in her future husband, and she is “aweary” that she does not have an appropriate mate. Here Shakespeare creates pathos through the use of emotive syntax and punctuations such as “O me, the word choose!” The “O” is a very emotive word that confirms her genuine distress, whereas the exclamation mark points out the degree to which she is suffering. However, as the scene progresses, Portia appears to be harsh and insulting towards her “renowned suitors.” She describes Neapolitan prince as a “colt” and declares that “his mother played false with a smith.” This is gravely insolent since she represents him as illegitimate; insulting not only him but his mother! Next she expresses that “(she would) rather be married to a death’s head” than to County Palatine as “(he) smiles not.” This is insensitive because you cannot ridicule a person to such a degree for just not smiling. Most importantly, Portia mocks an “Englishman” exclaiming, “How oddly he is suited! I think he brought...and his behaviour everywhere” makes her seem incredibly callous as she has prejudged him on his physical appearance. This would also cause uproar amongst the Elizabethan audience as it would insult them directly being an English audience. Shakespeare has specifically done this to change opinions of Portia from sympathy to anger by showing her to be heartless, dismissing suitor after suitor in a very derisory fashion.

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Shakespeare continues to divert our positive view of Portia. He does this by utilising “contrast” of Bassanio’s opinions of Portia as “fair” against Portia shown to be manipulative and unjust as she is noted to say “I pray thee set a deep glass of Rhenish wine on the contrary casket.” She is clearly biased as she is not complying with the rules. Also, Portia is illustrated to be racist as Prince of Morocco states “Mislike me not for my complexion” in the opening lines of his speech to her. This shows how desperate he is to eliminate his flaws ...

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