State the difference in the feelings of Portia for Bassanio as compared to other suitors in The Merchant of Venice.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Portia makes remarks that are disparaging, or at least negative, about all her suitors except Bassanio, whose arrival elates her.

In Act I, Scene 2 a number of suitors arrive to solve the riddle of the caskets and win the hand of the beautiful and wealthy Portia.

  • The Neopolitan prince - Portia is not interested in the prince from Naples because he speaks continually of his house. Portia intimates that the prince may love horses so much because "his mother played false with a smith" (1.2.43).
  • Count Palatine - Portia finds him morose. "I fear he will prove the weary philosopher" (1.2.48), she tells Nerissa.
  • Monsieur Le Bon - Portia feels that he is too affected. He is "every man in no man. If I should marry him, I should marry twenty husbands." (1.2.61-62) She does not know who he is.
  • Falconbridge, the Baron of England - Portia admits that he is a handsome man, but she cannot talk with him because he knows nothing but English.
  • The Scottish lord - Portia wonders why he has let the Englishman hit him, and has sworn to do something later; likewise, the Frenchman hit him, too, but he has done nothing. Portia had doubts about this man.
  • The Duke of Saxony's nephew - He drinks and becomes animalistic; Portia knows she could go on without him. She does not want to be married to a "sponge," that is, a drunk.
  • When the Prince of Morocco arrives, Portia is polite, but that is all. When he asks her not to judge him by the color of his skin, Portia replies politely that appearance is not the only way to her heart. She states that she has other ways to judge the suitor, but her father has taken away her ability to choose, anyway.

On the other hand, when Bassanio calls upon Portia at the end of Act II, Portia becomes very excited, calling upon Cupid and praying to the god of Love. Portia later begs him to take his time about selecting a casket, hoping he will stay before making his decision. In this way, she can talk with him for some time and get to know him in case he should depart after having lost. While she cannot help him choose, Portia has a song played that is suggestive of one of the caskets while Bassanio tries to make his selection. Finally, Bassanio chooses the lead casket, complaining that many are deceived by outward appearances. When he does so, Portia tells Bassanio,

Allay thy ecstasy.
In measure rein thy joy. Scant this excess.
I feel too much thy blessing. Make it less,
For fear I surfeit. (3.2.113-116)
Portia is so overcome with joy that she feels she will be ill if she does not calm down. Her dream has come true.
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The Merchant of Venice

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