While in this politically correct contemporary time, much is made of Shylock's character, The Merchant of Venice is really Portia's play, a romantic comedy. This distinction is certainly evinced in Act I, Scene 2, as Portia is very disgruntled by the conditions of her deceased father's will because her free choice of a suitor is prohibited by her father:
Is it not hard, Nerissa, that I cannot choose
one, nor refuse none? (1.2.23-24)
As her servant Nerissa asks the independent Portia her opinion of the three suitors who have come to open one of the chests of gold, silver, or lead, Portia provides her humorous evaluations.
- Suitor No. 1
The Neapolitan prince is humorously characterized by Portia as having been sired by a horse because he speaks of nothing but his own horse and boasts how he can shoe it himself. Portian tells Nerissa,
I am much
afraid my lady his mother played false with a smith. (1.2.40)
- Suitor No. 2
Portia finds Count Palatine very morose; he finds no joy in life, she observes, as he frowns even at humorous and cheerful stories. Portia concludes of him and the Prince from Naples,
I had rather be married to a death's head with a bone in his mouth, than to either of these. (1.2.46-47)
- Suitor No. 3
Monsieur LeBon, the French bachelor, excites Portia even less than the previous two. In fact, Portia even questions the manhood of this suitor; moreover, she thinks him mad as he dances with the birds' songs and he fences with his own shadow, exhibiting multiple personalities.
- Suitor No. 4
Falconbridge, a baron from England, is unable to speak Italian, so she cannot converse with him. While he seems a gentleman, he is oddly dressed, eclectic in his tastes, as he wears clothes that of various European styles.
- Suitor No. 5
Portia is most doubtful of the Scottish nobleman's financial situation since he borrowed money from the Englishman and made the Frenchman his guarantor, or his protector against loss.
- Suitor No. 6
The Duke of Saxony's nephew, a German gentleman, is a drunkard and one that Portia hopes she can live her life without, saying that he is "little better than a beast" (1.2.79). Furthermore, she asks Nerissa to set a glass of Rhenish wine upon the wrong casket so that he will be certain to choose it when he goes for the drink.
Nerissa tries to allay the fears of Portia by informing her that all the suitors have sworn to return to their homes if they do not choose the correct casket. Nevertheless, Portia is anxious, especially when she is informed that yet another suitor is coming: the Prince of Morocco.