Write about the role and character of Portia in the play.

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Eloise Sear 11P Merchant of Venice coursework

Write about the role and character of Portia in the play.

Beautiful, wealthy and quick-witted, Portia embodies the virtues that are classic of Shakespeare’s heroines—it is not a surprise that she emerges to be the antidote to Shylock’s malice. However, in Act I Scene 2, when we first see Portia, we do not see her potential for resourcefulness and initiative, as she is portrayed as a victim, bound helplessly by the will of her dead father to marry the man who correctly chooses between a gold, silver and lead casket. This opening appearance, however, proves to be quite a revealing introduction to Portia, who appears to be that rarest of combinations—a free spirit who abides rigidly by rules. Rather than ignoring the stipulations of her father’s will, she watches a stream of suitors pass her by, happy to see some particular suitors go, but sad that she has no choice in the matter. ‘I may neither choose who I would, nor refuse who I dislike’ (Act 1 scene 2)

However, like all interesting characters, Portia does have a dark side. She goes on to give a witty account of each of these suitors to Nerissa, showing the bigoted Elizabethan attitude towards foreigners. This can be shown in Act 1 scene 2 when Portia first talks of the Prince of Morocco, describing him as having ‘the complexion of a devil’.

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Her descriptions of her suitors show Portia to be witty and quick-thinking, but they also show her to be no less racist than many of the men in this play; as can be seen later on in Act 2 scene 7, when Portia says ‘Let all of his complexion choose me so’, which is clearly a reference to the colour of the Prince of Morocco’s skin.

Having seen Portia being strong, witty and racist, we see her change completely when Bassanio chooses the correct casket.  We have already seen hints of her feeling towards Bassanio, when in act 1 ...

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The candidate fails to mention Shakespeare's use of language, and how he writes in way that catches the audience attention. It is necessary to discuss the use of linguistic techniques, such as metaphors and similes, in order to achieve a higher grade at this level. However the candidate does seem to have a good vocabulary and there is no real issue with spelling, grammar or punctuation throughout the essay. Overall the essay is coherent and easy to read. This is an example of the type of work I would expect from an average C grade candidate.

There are instances in which the candidate simply retells part of the play, without giving any analysis or mentioning any further points. This is something you need to avoid as much as possible. It is often important to discuss certain scenes in a play, but you need to find a way to do this without retelling part of the story. You should discuss the characters thoughts and feelings, even if it’s just a guess at how you think they might feel. It can also be interesting to the reader if you discuss how certain scenes might have been portrayed, and how Shakespeare made the key points of the play obvious to the audience. In addition you can achieve a higher grade by undergoing independent research, this shows your interest in the play and also makes the essay more interesting for the reader. I would like to point out that there are places in which the candidate refers to Portia as an Elizabethan woman, and although Shakespeare wrote the play at this time, the character Portia is Italian, she was born and lives in Belmont, Italy. The term Elizabethan refers to a British person of this time period. If you’re unsure of a fact, I suggest that you do some research to check whether or not it is accurate. Finally there is no real conclusion to this essay. A conclusion should answer the initial question, summarise your key points and ideas and include your personal opinions (in this case your opinions of the character Portia). This is important as it brings the essay to a close and gives you a chance to leave the reader with a good impression.

I would suggest that in this case the introductory paragraph is used solely to introduce Portia as a character. It is not necessary to go into specific details from the play, this early in the essay. You should use the rest of the essay to pick apart specific scenes. The candidates response to the question is at times a little vague, they sometimes discuss parts of the play without saying how this gives an insight to Portia’s personality. It is essential to make sure that whatever you're discussing, you always come back to the main question.