‘The Merchant of Venice’ is hailed as one of Shakespeare’s best works, often regarded as the best comedy of its time. The anti-Semitic sentiments and stereotyping aside, the play is famous for its characterization, and also for producing one of English Literature’s famous, memorable villains. I could write a separate post about Shylock and why Antonio was the worst ‘protagonist’. But this post is dedicated to the actual star of the show, Portia!
I was preparing the class notes (the ones professors give their students for studying during exams) for a Professor of English, and I reintroduced myself to one of the iconic classics. The syllabus covered Act IV, Scene I of the play, the famous court scene where Portia bends the facts to get her version of justice. Reading through the dialogues and the analysis by experts, I couldn’t help but notice that Portia was an awesome, resourceful, witty and brilliant woman, a rarity in the times she was written in.
There are many reasons why Portia is my new favorite literary heroine, (I do have many) but here are the top five I will use to justify my sudden, newfound liking for this deep character.
She didn’t bend the law
Be it with the caskets her father had left to decide her marriage, or be it declaring Shylock’s bond legal and binding, the fiercely independent Portia still adheres to the rules and tries to find a legal way out of her predicaments.
She was resourceful at the time of crisis
Her pleas to Shylock to show mercy being dismissed unceremoniously, and with the ‘law’ on his side, Portia does not lose her cool, and instead *spoiler alert – if you have not yet read this piece, go on and read the original, what are you doing here?* finds a legal loophole in the whole bond that forces Shylock to see sense. Take the pound of flesh, she says, but dare not spill a drop of blood!
She uses the legal thrashing as a last resort
Portia does not depend on mercilessly breaking down Shylock as she could very well have done at first. She approaches him with all other logical ways out, including showing mercy and taking back double the amount due. She resorts to the final breaking down of the bond as the last resort.
She takes her husband to task, too!
Portia’s playful side is revealed when she forces her husband to part with the ring she gave him, while under the disguise of a lawyer, and when he comes back home without the ring, accuses him of infidelity and watches him fluster. She does not let it go far, though, and damage control is made quickly.
She was ahead of her times
Saving the best for the last, she decided to fight for justice for the man who helped in her marriage, and her husband’s friend, and she decided to do it in style. Her disguise as a male lawyer shows her keen understanding of the times she lived in and her quick-wittedness as she chose the fastest and cleanest way to attain the goal.
There are a million wrong things I could point out about the play and each of its characters. I could find out many faults about the whole concept of the play. But fact remains that the reasons I had listed out are why Portia will remain one of my favorite women characters in English Literature!
More love to you, Portia!