Portia In Detail
In Elizabethan times, men were seen as the more dominant and more important role whereas women were seen as the total opposite and seen as the less significant roles.
Shakespeare however created a strong, dominant significant female role; this character is Portia in ‘the merchant of Venice’.
Portia is shown as the romantic heroine of the ‘The merchant of Venice’ and is presented on stage and in words as beautiful and intelligent and this we need no convincing of due to Bassanio’s words and thus we turn to her love and effect on Bassanio.
We see from the first few scenes in the play that Portia has already given Bassanio cause to thinks it possible to ‘win’ or ‘woo’ her from her ‘Fair speechless messages’ she sent him from her eyes.
We can see very early on that Portia’s effect on Bassanio is that she has overwhelmed him with her kindness and beauty, she and him both have completely fallen under the spell of loves madness, this shows very early on how she is sometimes; although she tries to hide, is not able to control her emotions at all times which I will be explaining in full further on.
We also see from when Nerissa mentions Bassanio could possibly be one of the suitors that Portia is excited but attempts to hide her anxiety but fails feebly, this shows that Bassanio has also been sending speechless messages of his own.
Portia is also portrayed as a generous woman, when Bassanio correctly guesses the correct casket containing Portia’s counterfeit, she wishes she had more of everything to give him ‘this house, these servants and this same self are yours my lord I give them this ring’ she willingly shares all she owns with Bassanio. Portia once master of her emotions, is no unable to control her emotions, this shows that although she has a tough and controlled exterior , inside she like everyone else sometimes finds things a little bit too overwhelming, once again shown but her excitement that Bassanio may very well be one the suitors.
Lorenzo appreciates the generosity of spirit when Portia allows her new beloved husband, Bassanio, to leave and try and help his dear friend Antonio out difficulty, she says to her ‘You have a noble and true conceit of god like amity’
Portia may be shown as an ideal woman for the characters but Shakespeare gave this character in particular, a dark twist never foreseen by the readers or the audience when watching it being performed, we do not see from the start from of the play that Portia’s potential for initiative and resourcefulness. In the time of Shakespeare, women were stereotyped to be less intelligent and thus less important, this is what gives Portia that boldness , how Shakespeare created her to overcome these barriers put on women in that society and how Portia herself showed that women are more then they seem and are capable of a lot of a lot more then first imagined
Portia’s third characteristic that is most readily her graciousness that is her tact and sympathy. Despite her real feelings towards the Prince of Morocco, Portia answers him politely and reassuringly. She tells him ‘As fair as any new comer I have looked on yet for my affection’ since the irony of her words is not apparent to him, his feelings spared. She shows the Princes the honour his rank deserves. But once he is gone, she reveals that she did not like him ‘A Gentle riddance’ this shows although she does have feel of graciousness about her, she still is rather judgemental on the people around her, her suitors in particular. Showing her graciousness and her judgemental side shows a kind of contrast to show women do have a lot more to show and that they do have their own opinions yet do not voice them, once again Portia breaks free of these barriers put on women
Also when the prince of Aragon arrives, Portia carefully address him with all the deference due to his position. She calls him ‘Noble’. But after he has failed and has left, she cries out ‘O, These deliberate fools’, to her both of these men are shallow, greedy and self-centred; yet to their faces she is as ladylike as possible.
The effect of this on the audience is to show slight superficiality and to show contrast between appearances that she has created versus reality of what she really thinks and how she acts towards her sutiors.
As she is near enough a prisoner, feeling herself absolutely bound to her fathers dying wishes, we can tell that she is going to come up with some plan to make this work to her own advantage or she wishes to anyway.
The opening appearance however, proves to be a revealing introduction to Portia, who emerges as that of the rarest of combinations, generous, beautiful, kind and caring along with sly, resourceful and cunning, as you can see a clear and unsuspected contrast of characteristics.
Portia embodies the virtues that are typical to Shakespeare’s heroines; it is no surprises she emerges as the antidote to Shylocks malice.
As isaid earlier, Portia has a lot of potential for initiative and along with her intelligence; she rescues Antonio from a terrible fate.
When her new husband and Lorenzo leave for Venice, Portia comes up with a plan to get into the courtroom, her and Nerissa will dress as men, Portia a learned doctors and Nerissa as her clerk, this clearly shows her initiative due to the fact that in Elizabethan times, women were not allowed to enter the courtroom as they were thought not to be intelligent enough, if Portia were to go into the courtroom as herself she would have been made a mockery of, due to the fact her sex, everyone would have dismissed what she was saying and Antonio would have died.
In the courtroom, Portia (in disguise) speaks to shylock about mercy, but this is merely not attempt to stall, she truly means what she says, this shows another characteristic, Portia is merciful and is true to what she says and doesn’t distort the truth she tells it as it is.
Her request for mercy comes from natural goodness. She hopes, of course to soften his heart, knowing the outcome, Shylock refuses. But the words come from her heart, honestly, openly and naturally, showing yet another softer, gentler side to Portia.
Although Portia does have her soft and gentle sides she also has her devious and mischievous side.
When in the courtroom, Portia finds a loop hole in the bond, and forces shylock to take the bond, she humiliates him, in from of the entire courtroom by using her sarcasm and quick wit by using his own words against him, he repeatedly demanded for his bond, now that fact he could lose everything, he’d rather not take it but as said Portia uses his own words against him and forces the bond upon him.
Still yet whilst doing this she does it graciously and still showing her resourcefulness and initiative. Also at this point Shakespeare is trying to get the point across that woman can too as clever as men and that not all women are as incompetent as most men in that era thought, that some women like Portia did have a lot of intellectual potential that could be used in everyday life or in situations it may be needed
The entire ring plot is again Portia’s idea using her cunning side and initiative, she and Nerissa both relish the prospect of the jest at their husband’s expenses.
When Bassanio insists he gave the ring to another woman (the embarrassing fact for him is that he actually gave it to another man) with a fine sense of comedy and humour, Portia switches to the role of the ‘angry wife’ just as well as she played the learned younger lawyer at Antonio’s trial.
This shows Portia’s ability to manipulate those around her and how she can become a certain type of character instantly to work to her own advantage
Only when Portia first falls in love with Bassanio does she loses all self control; once she regains control of herself, we see her powerful and forceful side shining through again; she takes matters into her own hands until the very end of the play’
‘You are all amazed’ and there at that moment she displays total command of the situation, showing that she has control of the situation also, shes playing with everyone, she has them eating out of the palm of her hand, a cunning side? I think so.
Shakespeare must have had some kind of purpose and intention to portray such as character like Portia, some peoples opinions is that it were to break there mould of all the other playwrights and peoples opinions of women and that they should have some kind of higher status in society and that they do have a significant role.
But if trying to create a character people will admire and try to understand he role of women, would you give them a side, which makes people believe bad of the character and in most cases, think bad of women overall? Was this part of Shakespeare’s plan? Or was it a mistake?
Some people think that it was to humour women and that no woman in that time could come up with such a clever and devious plan.
Shakespeare’s intention will never be known in full, we can only assume his intentions.
So overall Portia is presented as one of Shakespeare’s most prominent heroines his romantic comedies, she is presented as beautiful, intelligent and has very high standards when it comes to men. The perfect woman perhaps? Or a mans worse nightmare? These are the questions we ask and we wonder if at some point whether Shakespeare thought these too when he was creating such a character, did he realise he would create such a bold and dominant character
From my own personal point of view, I believe Shakespeare created this character for a purpose, but I can think of many, for example to show to men in that era that there is more to women then they thought. My theory is that Shakespeare created such a character so that women in that age of time, that they can achieve things in life, and that they do not have to feel in superior to men, to even out the balance to be put bluntly.
But do you think Shakespeare’s intention was to portray women like Portia in a negative or positive manner? Each person has their own view on this question; did Shakespeare purposely use this technique to create the most dominant female role out of all of his works?