Explain the quote, "You teach me sir, how a beggar should be answered".

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This line is spoken by Portia to her love and future husband, Bassanio.  It is spoken after the trial has ended in Act IV, Scene 1.

Before the line is spoken, Bassanio has offered to pay Portio for her legal services.  She has refused but she wants his ring (along with Antonio's gloves).  She herself has actually given Bassanio the ring and she seems to be testing his loyalty to her (he of course does not know that the lawyer is her -- he thinks its a man).

Bassanio refuses to give her the ring.  At that point, she speaks the line you cite.  It is meant as a reproach to Bassanio.  She is saying that he is treating her like a beggar by not giving her what she asks for.  So, in modern English the line would be something like "you're showing me how people answer panhandlers."

By pestering Bassanio for the ring Portia is showing her playful side.  She's really just fooling around because it's not like she really wants the ring.  She just wants to harass Bassanio.

Read the study guide:
The Merchant of Venice

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