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How did Portia manage to solve the problem in The Merchant of Venice? 

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samifatty | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 12, 2011 at 5:12 PM via web

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How did Portia manage to solve the problem in The Merchant of Venice?

 

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shakespeareguru | Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted January 12, 2011 at 8:40 PM (Answer #1)

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I assume that you are referring to Act IV, scene i, when Portia appears at the Venetian court, disguised as a young doctor of law, to argue the case brought before the Duke concerning Antonio's inability to repay Shylock the money loaned him.  Shylock requires a pound of flesh from the body of Antonio nearest the heart in recompense.

Portia does a few things to solve this problem and save Antonio.  First she pleads to Shylock to have mercy upon Antonio and forgive him the bond.  In a long speech on the value and quality of mercy, she says:

. . . Therefore, Jew,

Though justice be thy plea, consider this,

That in the course of justice, none of us

Should see salvation.  We do pray for mercy,

And that same prayer doth teach us all to render

The deeds of mercy.

Shylock does not heed this and still demands his pound of flesh.  And so, Portia takes another tack.  She tells Shylock to proceed in taking his bond, yet she cautions him to take only flesh:

The words expressly are "a pound of flesh."

Take then thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh.

But, in the cutting it, if thou dost shed

One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods

Are, by the laws of Venice, confiscate

Unto the state of Venice.

So, Shylock does not take Antonio's flesh.  And, before he can escape the courtroom, Portia takes this a step further by telling Shylock, that by attempting to "seek the life of [a] citizen" of Venice, he (Shylock), because he is a Jew (so not a citizen) is subject to the Duke's judgement in whether he himself should be put to death.  And the Duke, in his mercy, grants Shylock his life, but strips him of all his property.

So, not only does Portia solve the problem of saving Antonio from Shylock's bond, she also manages to make sure that Shylock himself is punished.

For more on this scene, please follow the links below.

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muddy-mettled | Valedictorian

Posted January 20, 2011 at 6:56 AM (Answer #2)

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Upon further review of the play, that is, Act 3, scene 4, one might infer that Portia may have consulted with her cousin Doctor Bellario before Act 3, scene 2( the first words of 3.2 are "I pray you, tarry." The line "Tarry a little, there is something else" is a kind of turning point in the court scene).  They may have " turned o'er many books together"(4.1).  One question that remains a problem, for me, is whether Portia interprets the phrase "pound of flesh" figuratively and if so where does she not do so?  The "quality of mercy" speech remains the best brief answer to your question,  though, as I have been suggesting the author also invites us to turn o'er the pages of ROMEO AND JULIET and compare the two plays.

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vikas1802 | Student, College Freshman | Honors

Posted January 23, 2011 at 5:28 PM (Answer #3)

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you see in the play how he saved Antonio from Shylock and his bond.She is a good representative of wit in the play.She is a guide and morever solution of all disasters.she handled the situation very well you see from when she came out on the stage.

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muddy-mettled | Valedictorian

Posted January 14, 2011 at 2:47 AM (Answer #4)

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Another problem, for me anyway, is my dumb and dumber answers.  Portia solves this as well:  "Down therefore, and beg mercy of the Duke"(MV4.1).

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