The Merchant of Venice Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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How is the theme of appearances versus reality revealed in The Merchant of Venice?

The theme of appearance versus reality is revealed in The Merchant of Venice primarily through the way Portia and Nerissa disguise themselves as men so that Portia can defend Antonio in court. The two women also play on the slippage between appearance and reality to compel Bassanio and Graziano to give them the rings the two men promised never to part with. Finally, Shakespeare shows that appearances can be deceiving when Antonio's "lost" ships all arrive at port.

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The disguises and tricks of Portia and Nerissa illustrate the theme of appearance versus reality in The Merchant of Venice. In reality, Portia is a woman, and so, by the standards of her time, she is incapable of defending a man in a court of law. Yet by disguising herself as a man, Portia is, ironically, able to showcase her real talents as a lawyer. Shakespeare seems to be saying that sometimes it takes appearing as something we are not to show who we really are.

Portia and Nerissa, disguised as a lawyer and a clerk, also insist that Bassanio and Graziano give them rings they received from Portia and Nerissa that they promised never to part with. The men give up the rings reluctantly and only out of deep gratitude to the twosome for saving Antonio. However, they are once again deceived by appearances, for unbeknownst to them, they are giving the rings back to their beloveds.

Antonio suffers from the difference between appearance and reality. He seems both prosperous and secure with three...

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