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What is the significance of the ring which Portia gives to Bassanio in Shakespeare's...

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onam | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 11, 2013 at 5:57 PM via web

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What is the significance of the ring which Portia gives to Bassanio in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice?

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tinicraw | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted November 11, 2013 at 6:46 PM (Answer #1)

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The ring in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice has great significance between Portia and Bassanio because it is a symbol of their marriage. Portia gives Bassanio the ring along with her vows and her inheritance. This is a big deal because Bassanio is in great debt to Antonio and is pretty much financially destitute without Portia's wealth that he acquires through the marriage. Fortunately, Portia and Bassanio do love each other, so it is also a symbol of love, not merely a financial union or business contract. Portia says that she gives all of her wealth to her new husband and the symbol of which is the ring itself: "I give them with this ring;/ Which when you part from, lose or give away,/ Let it presage the ruin of your love,/ And be my vantage to exclaim on you"(III.ii.175-178). Summarily, Portia is saying that if he parts with the ring, it will bring ruin to him and she will reclaim her wealth.

Bassanio readily agrees to Portia's terms because he does love her and doesn't think that anything would come between him keeping the ring safely on his hand. Hence, he vows, "But when this ring/ Parts from this finger, then parts life from hence;/ O, then be bold to say, Bassanio's dead"(III.ii.187-189).  The irony comes, however, when Portia plays the part of a young lawyer in the case between Shylock and Antonio (Bassanio's friend and financier) when she asks Bassanio for the ring as payment for saving Antonio's life. Basssanio wrestles with the decision greatly, but Portia manipulates the situation so much that he gives in and gives the ring away as payment and appreciation for Antonio. Luckily, Portia understands later how unfair she was in the situation and doesn't hold it against Bassanio when he explains what he had done with the ring. In fact, she reinstates the ring to him and all have a pretty good laugh over it.

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