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First, Shakespeare does, in fact, have heroes, including Brutus in Julius Caesar, Edgar in King Lear, Hamlet, and Othello. Within The Merchant of Venice, Antonio is in many ways a noble and admirable character, and Bassanio, although imperfect, is certainly a sympathetic character.
Portia herself is a model Shakespearean heroine. Although an heiress, she is determined to marry for love rather than money, and shows herself strong, brave, and clever in pursuit of her goals. Her generosity in offering her dowry to Shylock shows that she is devoted and unselfish. Her stratagem to disguise herself as a lawyer, and her clever arguments at court show her not only to be intelligent but also quick-witted and capable of clever improvisation.
One aspect of both the play and the character of Portia that some modern critics find troublesome is its anti-semiticism. To a modern audience the forced conversion of Shylock seems cruel and unnecessary, although within the logic of the play, it forms a way of reconciling him to the Christian community and also saving his soul.
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