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"Merchant Of Venice" Feminist Perspective

1567 words - 7 pages

The feminist critical perspective examines the roles that women play in literary works and their true significance to the text. Their roles are usually decided on by the society or time period in which the story is set. In "The Merchant of Venice," females were suppressed by the societal ideals of Shakespeare's Elizabethan era, which is portrayed through the characters of Portia and Jessica, who could not establish their own powerful identities because they were women. Portia and Jessica are the main female characters in the play. If they had been given a chance to show their skills, they undoubtedly would've been extremely strong women. However, they had to mask their abilities in order to ...view middle of the document...

.. A sealed bag, two sealed bags of ducats, ... Stol'n by my daughter! Justice! Find the girl!'" (II.viii.13). Jessica's eloping with Lorenzo signified that Shylock's source of pride, his Jewish religion, would end after his death. There would be no continuance of the tradition because Jessica had betrayed him and married a Christian. She could no longer bear him a Jewish heir. After his religion, money was the second most important thing in Shylock's life. Jessica had taken some of his ducats and precious stones. He begged the law to condemn Jessica, who had stolen his hard-earned money. It was obvious that the loss of his daughter did not affect him one bit. But rather, it was the loss of his money and Jewish bloodline which infuriated him. Sadly, this showed that Jessica's worth was limited to nothing more than mere property.Portia was, like Jessica, bound by her father. She says: "If I live to be as old as Sibylla, I will die as chaste as Diana, unless I be obtained by the manner of my father's will" (I.ii.98). Her deceased father had left behind a will, which contained a riddle. There were three caskets, made of gold, silver, and lead. The man who can correctly choose the casket containing Portia's picture would become her husband. If Portia had not remained loyal to her father, she could have easily chosen any man to be her husband. However, this shows the power of the male guardian in Elizabethan times. Portia did not dare to be disobedient to her father, even after his death. "O me, the word 'choose'! I may neither choose who I would, nor refuse who I dislike, so is the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead father (I.ii.19). Instead, she grudgingly accepted the riddle as the ultimate decider in her fate and love life.In another aspect of Elizabethan society, women were mere objects that belonged to their husbands after ownership was transferred from their fathers. The suitors lasciviously desired Portia for her beauty and wealth. If they could win her as a wife, their reputations and futures would be set. The first suitor to try his luck at the riddle of the caskets was the Prince of Morocco. He chose the gold casket which had an inscription that read: "Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire" (II.vii.5). This shows that Morocco was a greedy man who desired Portia for materialistic reasons, just like many other men who would desire the gold too. The second suitor to attempt the riddle was the Prince of Arragon, who chose the silver casket. Like Morrocco, Arragon was quite superficial. "I will assume desert. Give me a key for this / And instantly unlock my fortunes here" (II.ix.52). He saw Portia as merely a free ride to financial security. He didn't want her because he loved or cared for her. He only wanted her for her money and power. Women were a prize which men displayed and flaunted. A woman had no true value as a person.A recurring event in the play was the women disguising themselves as men. This is symbolic...

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