Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice’s Portia: Friend or Foe? College

Perhaps one of William Shakespeare’s most famous comedies, The Merchant of Venice presents the game of three caskets with the high stakes of marriage to the wealthy and beautiful Portia if you choose correctly, or a life of solitude should you fail. The character Bassanio takes on the precarious challenge and after choosing correctly, makes one of the most popular speeches of the play. The speech is widely analyzed for its peculiar language that lends speculation into what Bassanio actually thinks of Portia and of winning the game. After a close reading of the speech, Bassanio’s dialogue can be interpreted to express his fear of Portia’s overwhelming beauty and being married to such an independent, wealthy woman.

Inside the winning lead casket lies a picture of Portia, which Bassanio picks up before beginning his speech. Bassanio announces, “The painter plays the spider, and hath woven / A golden mesh t’untrap the hearts of men / Faster than gnats in cobwebs” (III.ii.121-123). Initially this statement reads as a compliment to Portia’s great beauty, claiming her hair is so alluring it traps the hearts of all men. But trapping the hearts of men has a sinister undertone to it, potentially suggesting Bassanio believes Portia is...

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