Near the end of Act V in The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare returns to one of his universal motifs: appearance versus reality. Throughout the entire play, the characters have struggled to distinguish between the two, from the casket riddles to Jessica’s betrayal of her father. After Portia chastens Bassanio for giving up her ring, she reveals that everything is not as it seems. Not only did Bassanio and others underestimate Portia’s abilities, but Bassanio also allowed his friend Antonio to enter into a life-threatening contract without discerning its danger.
Shakespeare chooses the written word as the medium for truth’s revelation in the final scene. Letters serve as proof that Portia was the young lawyer, that Lorenzo and Jessica will receive much of Shylock’s estate, and that Antonio's ships ironically were not lost at sea. In her last lines, Portia fittingly promises,
“Charge us with there upon inter’gatories, / And we will answer all things faithfully” (5.1.297-298).
Finally, all of Merchant's characters will be wise to the fact that all is not as it seems.