Early indications of the character of Portia in Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice appear in the opening scene, when the male characters collectively lament their current positions in life. This is especially true of two of the play's main characters, Bassanio and Antonio, the two close friends whose relationship propels the narrative. It is the latter's recognition of the forlorn demeanor of the former that will result in the arrangement with the moneylender Shylock. The first real intimation of the nature of the woman for whom Bassanio pines comes during his and Antonio's conversation in Act I, Scene I, when Bassanio responds to his friend's queries regarding his (Bassanio's) mental state:
In Belmont is a lady richly left;
And she is fair, and, fairer than that word,
Of wondrous virtues: sometimes from her eyes
I did receive fair speechless messages:
Her name is Portia, nothing undervalued
To Cato's daughter, Brutus' Portia:
Portia, then, will emerge as a model of physical beauty and emotional rectitude, a creature of such worth that Bassanio would be reduced to such a weakened mental state that Antonio would enter into the near-fateful arrangement with Shylock.