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Portia is a classic example of a Shakesperian heroine who outshines the male characters around her, as it could be argued that Rosalind does in As You Like It. She quickly establishes herself as being both dignified and refined but also possessing a keen wit and a sense of humour that the audience finds endearing. Note the way that she and Nerissa make fun of her various suitors in Act I scene 2. However, arguably, Portia shows her true qualities and the value of her character in the court scene, where she impersonates a lawyer in order to help her husband's friend and ensure that Shylock's case is thrown out of court and he is punished. Note the following famous quote where Portia attempts to warn Shylock about the consequences of his actions in pursuing the full force of the law against Antonio by describing mercy:
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute to God himself,
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. 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.
This quote is significant in the way that it shows careful reasoning and logic. Portia tells Shylock that mercy would be something that would benefit him and would also improve his social standing. She also warns him that pursuit of judgement may end up turning against him with the same vigour and forcee with which he pursues justice against Antonio. It is in the court scene that Portia's intelligence and dignity shows itself to be a real and vital force that causes her to quite outshine the other male characters. It is only her intelligence that finds a solution to the problem facing her husband, Antonio and the Venetian legal system, and it is she who is able to retain her logical mind in the face of emotional intensity.
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