9 May 2017
Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History:
An Analysis on Portia’s Character
Women, overall, were undervalued in the Elizabethan Era and were seen as objects
that were owned and controlled by men. Often, the role of women was near to nonexistent
and never exceeded house work. In the case of the heroine, Portia in William Shakespeare’s
play The Merchant of Venice, she is the exact the opposite. Portia reveals her reluctance to
participate in the lottery which she is forced to continue with whether or not she respects
her father’s final wishes. Furthermore, Portia has demonstrated her willingness to protect
the one that she loves the most. Overall, Portia is a character who is very opinionated and
voices her viewpoint. Hence, William Shakespeare, in The Merchant of Venice, incorporates
a tough female heroine who contradicts the role of women in the Elizabethan Era.
Portia believes that she should be able to choose her own spouse, however the
choosing of the caskets has prevented her from doing so. She is being compelled to partake
in the lottery that her father organized in his will.“O me, the word choose! [She]/may
neither choose whom I would nor refuse whom I dislike—so is the will of a living daughter
curbed by the will of a dead father” (Shakespeare 1.2.22-24). Her father still manages to
control her decisions from beyond the grave. The fact that Portia was controlled by her
father when he was alive was not unusual in that Era but he continues that restraint after
he has passed away which brothers in her. There is a repetition of the word “choose” in the
passage because she knows that she has no say in who she marries. Nevertheless, she
respects her father’s will, continues with the lottery but keeps in mind that she is still being
“curbed by the will of a dead father”. Even though Portia must abide by her father’s will, she
is able to find a way to manipulate the process in favour towards Bassanio know what she
is looking for. Just as Bassanio is choosing between the three caskets, Portia has organized
musicians to sing a song that would give up certain hints as to which casket to pick.
(3.2.65-74). Portia finds a way to influence Bassanio’s decision with specific music to help
guide him. This represents how she is bound by her father’s last wishes, but is still able to
tip things in her favour. “Nerissa and the rest, stand all aloof. Let music sound while he doth
make his choice. Then if he loses he makes a swan like end/Fading in music. That the
comparison/May stand more proper” (3.2.42-46).In short, this section of the play shows
that no matter how hard her father ties Portia down, she is able to tip it to her advantage.
Thus, as the play progresses, Portia has realised throughout her short time with her
new groom that he is finding it difficult to choose between her and his closest confidant.
Shakespeare’s manner of conveying this situation shows that Portia...