The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

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What is a character sketch of the six suitors in The Merchant of Venice?

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Portia's disgruntlement with being compelled to select a suitor from the young men that her late father has arranged to come to Belmont produces some uproarious effects. Shakespeare uses his plot as an opportunity to satirize the noblemen of England and its neighboring countries of France, Scotland, and Germany. Portia's description of six of her suitors in act 1, scene 2 provides comic relief for the tragicomedy The Merchant of Venice.

The first six suitors come to Belmont, and after they depart, Portia speaks with Nerissa about them.

1. The Neapolitan Prince: Portia, who calls him a "colt" [meaning a stallion] describes this man as obsessed with his horse and its sterling qualities. He boasts of his skills in shoeing his horse himself. Drolly, Portia says that she suspects that the prince's mother must have "played wrong [had an affair] with a [black]smith" (1.2.42), implying that she was a mare.

2. The Count Palatine: Portia describes this man of royalty as perpetually frowning. His gloomy nature permits him no joy. For instance, "[H]e hears merry tales and smiles not." (1.2.46) Portia adds that if she marries such a melancholy man, it will be like living with "the weeping philosopher"; that is, another Heraclitus, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, who perceived all things as one. 

Heraclitus held extreme views that led to logical incoherence. For he held that (1) everything is constantly changing and (2) opposite things are identical, so that (3) everything is and is not at the same time. []

3. Monsieur Le Bon: Portia cannot identify any real personality in this man: " . . . he is every man in no man."

4. Falconbridge: Portia says that this young baron from England speaks none of the languages that she knows. She describes the Englishman as having no real identity, either, since his manner of dress indicates nothing about him. He wears a doublet from Italy, his round hose [a lower garment that functions both as stockings and breeches] from France, and his "bonnet" from Germany. Portia adds that his behavior also comes from everywhere.

5. The Scottish lord: With Portia's description, Shakespeare satirizes the Scots. Portia tells Nerissa that when the Scotsman was boxed on the ear by the Englishman, he promised to pay the Englishman back with the aid of the Frenchman. (This is a sarcastic remark directed toward the French who failed on several occasions to provide promised assistance to the Scots against the English.)

6. The young German, a nephew of the Duke of Saxony: Portia indicates the German's inclination for drinking as she finds him to be inebriated all day long. She says that she hopes to find a way to live without him.

After Nerissa informs her that all six noblemen have left because they do not wish to abide by the command of her father that if they make the wrong choice of casket, Portia concludes with obvious relief and irony,  

I am glad this parcel of wooers are so reasonable, for there is not one among them but I dote on his very absence. And I pray God grant them a fair departure. (1.2.97-99)

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In Act 1, Scene 2 of The Merchant of Venice, Portia gives her assessment of each of six suitors who have come to woo her.  Each suitor comes from a different country.  (These six do NOT include the suitors whom we meet later: the Prince of Morocco in Act 2, Scenes 1 and 7; the Prince of Arragon in Act 2, Scene 9; and Bassanio in Act 3, Scene 2.)

This is a short passage (lines 34 - 103), and wickedly funny.  It shows Portia's wit, her ability to judge character, and also her humility, for even as she jokes about these suitors' shortcomings, she admits, "I know it is a sin to be a mocker."  Yet she has too much foresight and self-worth to marry any of them.

The passage is worth reading for the humor alone.  Here is a list of the six suitors and of Portia's problem with each of them.

  • The Neapolitan prince.  He only talks about his horse.  Portia says, "I am much afeared ... his mother played false with a smith."  (!) 
  • The County Palantine.  He is gloomy, always frowning.
  • Monsieur Le Bon.  He is flighty, with no consistent character.  "If I should marry him, I should marry twenty husbands."
  • Falconbridge, the young baron of England.  He is good-looking, but he speaks no Latin, French, or Italian, and Portia speaks no English.  Also, he dresses oddly.
  • The Scottish lord. Immediately fought with the Englishman.
  • The young German, the Duke of Saxony's nephew.  He is drunk every afternoon, and vilely rude even when not drunk.

Portia wraps up her assessment with the hilarious and quotable line,

... there is not one among them but I dote on his very absence; and I pray God grant them a fair departure.



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