The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare
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What is the character Portia's full name in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice? Did she have a title of royalty? What are details of the character of Portia such as physical appearance, height, personality, etc.?

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In the Dramatis Personae, Portia is described merely as "a rich heiress", with no other names or titles.  From her first scene, Act I, Scene ii, we know that Portia is not only rich, but, at the moment, unhappy because she is not at liberty to choose her own husband.  Her suitors are of princely and noble rank, but she finds fault with all of them.

In Act II Scene ii one of Portia's suitors, the Prince of Morocco, calls her "my gentle queen" (line 12), but this is only a term he uses to express his regard of her, not her actual title.  She is the only heiress of a very rich Venetian nobleman (in the Venetian republic there were noble families, but there were very few actual titles in comparison to other European states).  But as a rich Venetian woman, with not only money but probably ships and trading contacts as her dowry, she was a fit match for any prince (as evidenced by the suits of the princes of Morocco and Arragon).

The Prince of Morroco does not describe her specifically, but he and all the other suitors seem to agree that she is very beautiful.   "For princes to come view fair Portia: "(II.vii.43)

Portia's personality, however is evident in her words and actions.  She has already, at the beginning of the play, her own idea of who shall be her husband.  But she is loyal, and had given her word to her father to be ruled by his system of husband selection for her.  We know that she is somewhat prejudiced, for twice (in Act I and Act II, scene 7) she says that she hopes that no black man comes to press his suit.  She is brilliantly logical, on the other hand, and fools all the other lawyers with her careful defense of Antonio when Shylock attempts to take his pound of flesh.  She is daring, for she is willing to don a disguise and pretend to be a lawyer in order to save a friend.  She comes up with the extremely clever way that Shylock's demand is foiled; she notes that in the bond there is no provision for any blood, only for the flesh.  In this way (for there was a law that if a Jew, at this time, shed Christian blood, their money was forfeited to the state) she makes it impossible for Shylock to demand the terms of the bond. 

Portia is an extraordinary woman, in possession of most of the great gifts of life; money, liberty, good looks, and intellect.  She is, perhaps, no more bigoted racially or religiously than the other Venetians of her day, and she uses her brains in the cause of justice, and saves Antonio's life.

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