Merchant of Venice

Shakespeare's Portia

In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare crafts a dynamic female character uncommon to his collection of plays. Portia, the lovely and wealthy heiress, exemplifies stereotypical feminine qualities but also exhibits independent and intelligent thought. Most of Shakespeare’s female roles function as static characters designed to further the plot action; they are elements of the backdrop against which the male protagonist and antagonist act. In fact, in Shakespearian drama, any strong female character generally exhibits masculine qualities. Thus Portia acts as an exception to the norm. Her command of logic is as stunning as her beauty, and this depth of character has placed Portia at the center of much literary analysis. Portia typifies the ideal, well-rounded woman.

Many aspects of Portia’s character reflect the view of Shakespeare’s contemporaries that a woman ought to be obedient and humble. Even though her father is deceased, Portia commits herself to obeying his final command. She will not choose a husband for herself; instead, potential suitors must enter a lottery designed by her late father. Each man must select one of three caskets, and the bachelor who opens the casket containing Portia’s portrait earns her hand in...

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