The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

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

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Karlie Krajcik eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I would add to the excellent answer above that Portia's decision to disguise herself as a man in act IV of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice can illuminate even more about the theme of appearance vs. reality in the text. Portia's donning of the disguise is an expression of this theme made physical: she is not what she appears.

Portia takes on this disguise so that she will be able to defend Antonio, her husband's dear friend, in a court of law. That she must pretend to be a man to do so is symptomatic of society at the time. Portia is just as intelligent and capable as "Balthazar" (her alter ego), yet only Balthazar is taken seriously.

Portia uses her necessary deception to her advantage by testing her husband's loyalty to her while interacting with him as someone else. Act V of the play, after all of the Shylock drama has concluded, deals largely with the aftermath of Portia and Nerissa's deception. Both women use their knowledge of their husband's actions while in Venice—which their...

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Angie Waters eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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