In The Merchant of Venice, Portia plays a crucial role in the development of the plot. She is duty-bound to honor her father's wishes as " is the will of a living daughter curb'd by the will of a dead father."(I.ii.21)The audience is aware of her displeasure towards her suitors, all except Bassanio.
There is thus much suspense as Bassanio deliberates over which casket to choose to ensure that he will win Portia's hand in marriage taking much care as "the world is still deceiv'd by ornament." (III.ii.74) Portia is clearly pleased and "commits itself (her gentle spirit) to yours to be directed."(164)
Portia hands Bassanio a ring which he must keep, otherwise "parts life from hence"(185), the significance of which will become apparent later. For the time being it will "solemnize the bargain of your faith."(194)
As they are rejoicing and also Nerissa and Gratiano have announced their intent to be married, the problem with Antonio's ships is revealed. Bassanio is forced to reveal to Portia that "my state was nothing"(261) and that his dear friend Antonio pledged his ships on Bassanio's behalf. Rather than Portia rejecting Bassanio, she is prepared to pay his debt for him and sends him off to "deface the bond."(301) and return forthwith with "your true friend."(310)
The audience is now concerned for Antonio as his "creditors grow cruel"(317)and for Bassanio who must settle Antonio's debts although Jessica, Shylock's own daughter has warned them that "he would rather have Antonio's flesh than twenty times the value of the sum." (288)