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 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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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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