Explain the relationship between Portia and her father in The Merchant of Venice.

In The Merchant of Venice, Portia's father left instructions after his death for a three-casket "test" for Portia to follow to determine which of Portia's many suitors would be a suitable husband for her, meaning someone who would love Portia for herself, not just for her wealth and beauty. Portia loved and respected her father enough to follow his wishes, even though it deprived her of making her own decision about the man she would marry.

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Portia's father dies before the beginning of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, but he left instructions to follow a particular method and procedure for deciding the man who will be her husband. Portia has no real choice in the matter, and the outcome is determined solely by which of three small caskets each of her suitor's chooses.

Portia seems to resent her father’s meddling in her life even after his death, and there's also a sense that she's not at all pleased that he didn't trust her to make her own decision about a husband.

PORTIA. [S]o is the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a
dead father:—Is it not hard, Nerissa, that I cannot choose
one, nor refuse none?
(act 1, scene 2, lines 22–24)

There's no mention of any consequence to Portia if she doesn't follow her father's instructions—like losing her inheritance. Portia also doesn't give any reason for adhering to his wishes, even now that he's dead and can't interfere if she decides to choose a husband for herself.

Although there's precedent in Shakespeare's plays for dead fathers returning from the grave to haunt their children, it seems unlikely that any such ghost would appear in what is generally, and generously, categorized as a comedy, if for no other reason than it ends happily for most of the characters in the play except Shylock.

The audience must assume that Portia loved and respected her father enough to concede to his wishes even after his death, as patronizing and patriarchal as those wishes might be. She also appears to understand his desire for her to have a husband who loves her for herself, not only for her considerable wealth and beauty.

Portia complains bitterly to her lady-in-waiting, Nerissa, about her suitors, but Portia has cleverly devised how to "game the system" so that she can have at least some choice in the matter of her own husband.

Regarding the Duke of Saxony, for example, who Portia finds vile "in the morning, when he is sober, and / most vilely in the afternoon, when he is drunk," she has Nerissa put a glass of wine on one of the "contrary" caskets, so he will choose the wrong one.

PORTIA. Therefore, for fear of the worst, I pray thee, set a deep
glass of Rhenish wine on the contrary casket; for, if the
devil be within and that temptation without, I know he
will choose it.
(act 1, scene 2, lines 84, 87)

Portia has no interest in being married to someone who is, in her own words, "a sponge" (act 1, scene 2, line 88).

As for her other suitors, the Neapolitan prince "doth nothing but talk / of his horse," and the Palatine count "doth nothing but frown" (act 1, scene 2, lines 36–42). God made the French lord Monsieur Le Bon, Portia says, "and therefore let him pass for a man." And as for Falconbridge, the young English Baron, "he understands not me, nor I him" (act 1, scene 2, lines 49–62).

In any event, Bassanio, who is Portia's choice for a husband, agrees to participate in the three-casket game show, with Portia as the prize. He chooses the correct casket—notably, without any undue influence from Portia—and he succeeds in officially winning her hand, to go with her heart, which he already had won.

It might be that Portia's father understood her well enough to expect that she would try to "game the system" and that her own choice for a husband would be a good one. The result of the three-casket "test" simply serves to approve and support Portia's own decision, as if Portia's father were still alive to congratulate her on her choice himself.

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The relationship between Portia and her dead father is patriarchal, as he exerts control over her life even after his death. Although she is a strong and intelligent woman who can convincingly present herself as a male in the courtroom and win a legal case, she is not allowed to choose her own husband.

The absent father acts a fairytale figure, leaving instructions that her future husband be chosen by means of selecting the correct one of three caskets, a fairytale motif.

Shakespeare can be read as critiquing the notion of patriarchy in this play. Believing a woman like Portia is incapable of making a decent choice of husband by herself is as much a fairytale as the plan her father devises to control her marriage choice.

Portia is not happy with being at the mercy of a seemingly arbitrary game of chance but manages nevertheless to be paired with the right mate.

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Portia's father has already passed away before the curtain opens on William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, but the provisions of his will continue to impact his daughter's life from beyond the grave. He created a test for any of Portia's would-be suitors whereby they can only marry her if they choose the box containing her picture out of three possible boxes. It is clear that Portia resents that, even though he is gone, her father still has such control over her life and her love life specifically. In Act I, Scene II when Portia is introduced, she has this to say on the matter:

I may
neither choose whom I would nor refuse whom I
dislike; so is the will of a living daughter curbed
by the will of a dead father. Is it not hard,
Nerissa, that I cannot choose one nor refuse none?

Portia would much rather be able to elect her future husband herself than leave it up to fate and the test devised by her father.

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The relationship between Portia and her father is an interesting relationship to consider in this play. This is because Portia's father died before the beginning of the play, and she is left to carry out her father's particular instructions regarding whom she should marry and how her future husband will be selected. This is something that she finds very difficult to cope with, as she explains to Nerissa in Act I scene 2 when she talks of how "the will of a living daughter [is] curb'd by the will of a dead father." She is neither able to choose nor to refuse, and she finds this very unjust. However, Nerissa reasons with her and tries to help her see that her father was acting in her best interests:

...the lott'ry that he hath devis'd in these three chests of gold, silver, and lead, whereof who chooses his meaning chooses you, will no doubt never be chosen by any rightly but one who you shall rightly love.

Nerissa perhaps sees what her mistress is unable to see; that Portia, as a wealthy heiress, will be courted by all sorts of men, both suitable and unsuitable. The test her father devised, out of love for her daughter, will therefore ensure that the person who succeeds in guessing the correct casket will be of a suitable character to marry Portia. This relationship offers an interesting comparison to the relationship between Shylock and Jessica. Portia feels constrained by her relationship with her father, even though it is for her benefit. Arguably, the sense of entrapment Jessica feels is something that is negative, and she elopes to escape her father.

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