The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare

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How is Portia characterized in act 1, scene 2, of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice?

Portia is characterized in act 1, scene 2, of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice as a conflicted, intelligent woman, who is obedient, loyal, and perceptive. Portia is a wealthy hopeless romantic who insists on following her deceased father's will but is worried that the wrong suitor will choose the correct casket. She longs for the opportunity to exercise her individual choice but is not willing to compromise her morals or standards.

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The audience is introduced to Portia in act 1, scene 2 while she is having an insightful conversation about her father's will and the many suitors interested in winning her hand in marriage. Portia's first lines portray her as a weary, depressed young woman who is frustrated and stressed out about her difficult situation. When Nerissa encourages Portia to be optimistic and consider her good fortune, Portia responds by saying,

I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done than be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching. The brain may devise laws for the blood, but a hot temper leaps o'er a cold decree (1.2.15–18).

Portia's response depicts her as an intelligent, acute woman, who understands human nature and recognizes moral ambiguity. She then complains about her unfortunate, unique situation, which prevents her from marrying the man of her choice.

The fact that Portia honors her deceased father's will illustrates her loyalty and morally upright nature. However, she is conflicted about the entire situation and worried that the wrong man will choose the correct casket.

Portia is also portrayed as a critical, sarcastic woman with a sense of humor when she comments on her unworthy suitors. As Nerissa lists Portia's suitors, Portia mentions that the Neapolitan prince is more like his horse, the County Palatine is a morose individual, the English baron does not speak her language, and the Duke of Saxony's nephew is a drunk. Her evaluation of the suitors depicts her perceptive nature and high standards.

From this scene, the audience recognizes that Portia is a conflicted, loyal daughter, who desires to marry a worthy man but must obey her father's will. Portia is also portrayed as an intelligent, insightful young woman with a sense of humor and understanding of human nature.

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In act 1, scene 2, Portia is depicted as a melancholy, conflicted young woman, who is forced to follow the will of her deceased father. Portia laments about her difficult situation and is upset that she lacks the agency to choose a husband. At the beginning of the scene, Nerissa offers Portia valuable advice, and Portia displays her reasonable, insightful personality by commenting that it is easier to give good advice than to follow it. Nerissa then elaborates on Portia's father's will and proceeds to list the numerous suitors interested in marrying Portia.

As Nerissa lists the suitors, Portia critiques their personalities and expresses her displeasure with each of them. While Portia is critiquing the suitors, she is depicted as a critical, genuine woman who knows what she desires and is not interested in superficial, arrogant leaders. She is also characterized as a hopeless romantic with a sense of humor. When the servant informs Portia that the Prince of Morocco has arrived, Portia reveals her prejudice by criticizing his dark complexion. Overall, Portia is characterized as an affluent hopeless romantic who is depressed about her marriage situation and is not interested in any of the suitors. She is also a critical woman, desperate to...

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find a worthy husband. As the play progresses, Portia displays her loyalty, wisdom, and cunning by savingAntonio's life and fooling Bassanio.

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In Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, the reader gets a sense of Portia's character in Act One, scene two.

Portia seems to be conflicted about doing good things for others. She has a discussion with Nerissa about money and happiness. (She has inherited her father's wealth, as well as his strange manner of choosing a partner for his daughter, even after his death.)

Portia admits that it's easy to preach being kind and helpful to others, but very rare to be the one person willing and able to actually put words into actions. The thrust of this part of her conversation seems to be that it is difficult to do what you know is right: but doesn't see this as an excuse.

The brain may devise laws for the blood, but a hot tempter leaps o'er a cold decree.

(In other words, "Cold" rules are all well and good unless you have a "hot" temper.)

In listening to what Portia has to say, we find she is intelligent—not a simpering young woman concerned with clothes and jewels as other ladies her age might be.

The conversation turns toward Portia's suitors. Portia has a reason that she would prefer not to marry each one Nerissa mentions, but her reasoning is sound. One man is a drunk, another talks of nothing but of horses, and another she cannot speak to at all because he speaks only English, which she speaks poorly. One famous line comes from these conversation regarding the drunk, the duke of Saxony's nephew:

When he is best he is a little worse than a man, and when he is worst he is little better than a beast.

Overall, I believe the reader learns that Portia is a woman of substance, but not just financial substance: she is concerned about helping others, and being committed to do the "right" thing. She wants to marry someone that she has something in common with, rather than passing her days with a stranger or a drunk. She is a bright, articulate woman, hoping for a bright future.

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