What does Portia say about the men who are interested in marrying her in Act 1, Scene 2 of The Merchant of Venice?

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scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act 1, Scene 2, as Portia's maid Nerissa lists each of Portia's suitors, Portia critiques the man and explains why she does not want to marry him. The scene as a whole provides the audience with insight into Portia's internal conflict over wanting to please her father and wanting to have a say in the type of man she marries. Below are her responses to each of the men's names and characters.

1. Neapolitan Prince: He talks only about horses and how capable he is with all things horse-related. His one-subject nature makes him uninteresting to Portia.

2. County Palatine: He is too melancholy for Portia. According to the play's heroine, he does not smile at funny stories, and Portia claims that she would rather be married to a skull than to him.

3. Monsieur Le Bon: Portia is quite disdainful toward the Frenchman. She comments that he must be a man only because God made him one--she implies that he is effeminate and easily scared. She then goes on to describe him as having multiple personalities!

4. Falconbridge from England: While Portia admits that Falconbridge is good looking, she cannot tolerate his hodgepodge manner of dressing nor his lack of language skills; in fact, she calls him a "dumb show."

5. Scottish Lord: Portia does not like him because he borrows from too many people. He seems like a charmer, but she doesn't appreciate how he uses that charm to take advantage of others.

6. The German Duke: He is a sponge (a drunk), and Portia even suggests putting a glass of wine on the wrong casket so that he will choose it instead of Portia. The duke's character represents Shakespeare's tendency to paint Germans as heavy drinkers.

7. Bassanio: Shakespeare also uses this scene to foreshadow the future relationship between Portia and Bassanio. He is the only potential suitor about whom Portia says nothing negative.

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The Merchant of Venice

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