Explain the role of Portia in The Merchant of Venice.

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Portia, in Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice, pays two very different roles. First, her role is that of a daughter who must live by the vow made to her father regarding her inheritance and her marriage. She is not allowed the rights to her inheritance unless her husband has been able to solve the puzzle of the three boxes. Second, Portia plays Balthazar--a man who appears in court in order to help Antonio (in a case brought forth by Shylock).

Underneath, Portia is a torn woman. Essentially, her feminine emotions allow her to fall immediately for Bassanio. She, therefore, hints at the box he must choose in order to have her hand (and her wealth). On the other hand, Portia's prowess allows her to be very successful in the courtroom. (Something men would not believe a woman capable of). In the end, she seems torn based upon her female emotions and her male ambition.)

Her role, in the end, is one which is meant to highlight both the emotion and cognitive power of a woman. Unfortunately, at this point in time, women were not deemed as highly as men. The fact that Portia, a woman, is able to sway the courts is important.


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