Portia, The Ideal Woman.
When one thinks of something ideal one may think of things in their ideal form rather than as they really are. In Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant Of Venice, one of the major themes is appearance verses reality. In the play Portia is portrayed as the ideal woman. In the opening scene, Bassanio describes her as the Golden Fleece. Portia is truly the Golden Fleece: she is highly intelligent; she has a great sense of humour and she is able to keep her good values through the entire course of the play.
Portia’s intelligence is her most distinguishing characteristic. she has wisdom that has come early to her. In the beginning of the play when Nerissa says:
Your father was ever virtuous, and holy men at
Their death have good inspirations; therefore, the lottery
That he hath devised in these three chests of gold,
Silver, and lead, whereof who chooses his meaning
Chooses you will no doubt, never be chosen by any
Rightly but one who you shall rightly love. (1.2:27-33)
She suggests that the lottery of the caskets is not just a game of chance. This means that Portia must have been wise enough to see that her father’s lottery would insure that only the right man would be able to marry her. Therefore Portia decides to follow her fathers advice and abide by the rules of his will. Furthermore, when Portia devises the plan for herself and Nerissa to disguise themselves as men, she shows the extent of her intelligence. For a person of her time to dress up in men’s clothing and go into the court of law it took much courage and wisdom. When Portia arrives at the court she shows everyone just how brilliant she is. When she says “It is entacted in the laws of Venice,/if it be prov’d against an alien/that by direct or indirect attempts/he seek the life of any citizen,/the party ‘gainst he doth contrive/ shall seize one half his goods.” (4.2:346-351) it is obvious, by her choice of words, that she has done a great deal of research.
In Ancient Greece, new ideals surfaced as answers to life's complicated questions. These new beliefs were centered around the expanding field of science. Man was focused on more than the Gods or heavenly concerns. A government that was ruled by the people was suggested as opposed to a monarchy that had existed for many years. Freedom of religion was encouraged to be exercised in city-states. These ...
As well, throughout the play, Portia’s character adds a sense of high humour. Portia’s humour is very ironic, which is clear through her actions in the ring plot. The entire plot is based on dramatic irony. After the trial when Portia asks Bassanio for his ring the audience knows that the lawyer is Portia, but Bassanio does not. In the last scene when she is scolding Bassanio for giving away the ring and says “I will become as liberal as you –/I’ll not deny him anything I have [because he has the ring],/no, not my body, nor my husband’s bed” (5.1: 226-229)the audience finds this hilarious because Portia is saying she slept with the lawyer, but we know that she is the lawyer herself. Another point in Portia’s humour is the way she mocks her suitors. When she says to the Prince of Morocco, “Yourself renowned prince, then stood as fair/ as any corner I have look’d on yet/ for my affection” (2.1:20-22) the audience knows that she has hated all her other suitors, so for the Prince to stand just as high as them isn’t very high at all.
Lastly, Portia is a well-mannered individual; always generous and kind. Portia is very charitable towards Antonio and Bassanio. When she hears that Bassanio’s friend is in trouble, she is ready to give up all she has to go and help him. She disguises herself as a man and pretends to be a lawyer in order to help Antonio, a person she has never met. In her mercy speech Portia says, “The quality of mercy is not strain’d;/ it droppeth as a gentle rain from heaven/ upon the place beneath it is twice blessed;/it blesseth him that gives and him that takes” (4.1:182-185), which shows how kind and gentle-hearted she is.
In “Much Ado About Nothing” Shakespeare captures many of the social standards in Elizabethan society whether they are fair or not. In Act 2 Scene 2 of the play, Don John plots to frame Hero and make it look like she has been unfaithful to her fiancée the night before they are due to marry. This then sparks outrage from the male characters, which in turn shows a male bias in their ...
Throughout the play through her intelligence, sense of humour and good values, the audience sees that Portia truly is the Golden Fleece. She is beautiful on the outside as well as on the inside. The play would not be complete without Portia, the truly ideal woman.
Coles. Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice Notes. Toronto: Coles Publishing Company Limited, 1986.
Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. Toronto: Harcourt Brace & Company, Canada, 1988