The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare
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What is the effect of Portia's delayed entrance into the trial scene?

This question asks about the effect of Portia's delayed entrance into the trial scene. The main effect is to heighten the dramatic tension and make Portia's winning defense seem like a miracle.

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More than one hundred lines of Antonio's trial scene occur in Act IV, scene 1 before Portia arrives disguised as a lawyer to plead Antonio's case. These lines heighten the tension to an almost unbearable level and lead us to despair for Antonio by the time Portia enters the...

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More than one hundred lines of Antonio's trial scene occur in Act IV, scene 1 before Portia arrives disguised as a lawyer to plead Antonio's case. These lines heighten the tension to an almost unbearable level and lead us to despair for Antonio by the time Portia enters the courtroom. There seems no possible way that Antonio will not be killed, for Shylock is insistent he will cut the pound of flesh he is owed from Antonio's heart.

As the scene starts, the judge assumes that Shylock is simply bluffing when he says he will take his pound of flesh. Shylock assures him he is not. When Bassanio offers Shylock twice what Antonio owes him to give up taking the flesh, Shylock responds that six times the amount wouldn't stop him: he hates Antonio and is going to have his revenge. When asked how he can expect mercy when he is showing none, Shylock says he doesn't need mercy because he has wronged nobody. As the disguised Portia arrives, Shylock is sharpening his knife, ready for the kill.

All of this builds the fear and suspense up so high that we can't imagine how Portia could possibly pull off any winning defense of Antonio. By making Antonio's case seem hopeless, Shakespeare ratchets the tension to a fever pitch, so that the audience is on the edge of its seat and anxious to know what Portia will say. This creates a situation in which Portia comes across as a genius for her part in the trial.

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