Essay, Research Paper: Merchant Of Venice


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When William Shakespeare wrote, The Merchant of Venice, he included a female
character that influences the play dramatically. In most of Shakespeare's plays,
the women have little power and intelligence. In The Merchant of Venice,
however, Portia is a woman that saves the life of a man with her wit and
intelligence. Another woman created by Shakespeare that posses qualities similar
to Portia is Beatrice, from Much Ado about Nothing. Both women add to the main
themes of the play because of their ability to use their intelligence and witty
remarks as well as having a loving heart. The women share many similarities as
well as many differences which seem to be inevitable because Portia seems to be
put on a pedestal that very few can reach. Portia is one of Shakespeare's great
heroines, whose beauty, lively intelligence, quick wit, and high moral
seriousness have blossomed in a society of wealth and freedom. She is known
throughout the world for her beauty and virtue, and she is able to handle any
situation with her sharp wit. In many of Shakespeare's plays, he creates female
characters that are presented to be clearly inferior to men. The one female,
Shakespearean character that is most like Portia would be Beatrice, from Much
Ado about Nothing. Both of the women are known for their wit and intelligence.
Beatrice is able to defend her views in any situation, as does Portia.
Shakespeare gives each of them a sense of power by giving their minds the
ability to change words around, use multiple meanings and answer wisely to the
men surrounding them. By adding a loving heart to both of these women,
Shakespeare makes their intelligence more appealing. Even though Beatrice hides
the loving side of her character for most of the play, she still expresses her
kindness and love in other ways. Like Portia, she is a dear friend and an
obedient daughter. In the fourth act, after Portia has saved the life of
Antonio, she uses her wit, just as Beatrice does to test Benedict's love, to
convince Bassanio to surrender the ring that he vowed he would never part with.
After simply asking for it and being unsuccessful, she decides to use her
intelligence and says, "I see sir, you are liberal in offers. / You taught
me first to beg, and now methinks / You teach me how a beggar should be answer'd"
(IV.ii.438-440). The only main difference between the two women is the way they
are perceived by the other characters. Portia is thought of as a perfect angel
possessing no flaws, which is shown when Bassanio describes her to Antonio and
says, "In Belmont is a lady richly left, / And she is fair and, fairer than
that word, / Of wondrous virtues… Nor is the wide world ignorant of her worth,
/ For the four winds blow in from every coast / Renowned suitors, and her sunny
locks / Hang on her temples like a golden fleece, / Which makes her seat of
Belmont Colchis' strond, / And many Jasons come in quest of her"
(I.i.161-172). Portia displays all the graces of the perfect Renaissance lady.
She is not ambitious, she is quiet rather than restrictive. She is modest in her
self-estimation. Her generous spirit makes her wish she had more virtue, wealth,
and friends so that she can better help those she loves. Beatrice, on the other
hand, is not described as beautiful and even though she is well liked in her
society, she is not thought of in the same godly way as Portia is. Besides
saving the life of Antonio, Portia is also used to convey the theme of deceptive
appearances. Throughout the play, Shakespeare uses his characters to show the
audience that a person cannot be judged by how they appear to the eye and that a
person can truly be identified by their inner soul. Bassanio chooses the lead
casket and proves that even though the other caskets appeared to be beautiful
and trustworthy, the treasure was found in the casket of lead. Shakespeare
foreshadows the theme of appearances when Portia says to her new husband,
"You see me, Lord Bassanio, where I stand, / Such as I am… But the full
sum of me / Is an unlesson'd girl, unschool'd, unpractic'd, / Happy in this, she
is not yet so old / But she may learn; happier than this, / She is not bred so
dull but she can learn" (III.ii.149-164). After saying this to her husband,
she later dresses up as a man and finds a way to release Antonio from his bond
with Shylock, when no one else is able to. She proves to the audience and to her
friends that even though she might have been perceived as an "unlesson'd,
unschool'd, unpractic'd girl," her inner self, posses the strength,
intelligence and experience that enables her to do what she did. When
Shakespeare created Portia's character, he contributed the likeness of Beatrice
and added the elements of a perfect Renaissance woman. Even though Portia is a
woman, she still posses the intelligence to use and manipulate words, the beauty
to woo men, and the soul that stands above many others. Her appearance adds to
her angelic reputation and her wisdom allows the audience of the play to
acknowledge the theme of deceptive appearances.
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