What are the leading character traits of Portia, and how is she a heroine?
Heroines are strong female characters who take daring actions to save or help other individuals throughout plays and stories. Portia is one of Shakespeare's most revered heroines, and she embodies many heroic attributes throughout The Merchant of Venice. Portia is respectful, even to the suitors she is uninterested in, and she is also intelligent. Portia displays her intelligence by conducting an elaborate plan to save Antonio and gives a valid argument that prevents Shylock from cutting a pound of flesh from Antonio's breast. In doing so, Portia saves Antonio's life and displays her courage by dressing up as a man and intervening in a Venetian trial under false pretenses. Portia takes a great risk by pretending to be Doctor Balthazar and ruling on Antonio's forfeiture. Portia also displays her magnanimous personality during her speech about mercy. Portia's intelligence, sympathy, and courage are predominant character traits typically found in heroines.
The term heroine usually means a protagonist we admire for her strength, though it lacks the literary critical precision of such terms as epic or tragic hero. While recent feminist theorists have begun to theorize the concept of the heroine more precisely, the term is often still used to refer to any strong sympathetic female protagonist. Thus Portia as a strong and admirable female character is normally considered a heroine.
She is a wealthy heiress who is interested in finding a husband who will love her for herself rather than just her money. She is beautiful, intelligent, and loyal, an eloquent speaker and original thinker. She gives one of the best and most memorable speeches of the play ("The quality of mercy...") and ends up saving Antonio by use of her quick thinking. She displays courage in her masquerade and the willingness to put herself at risk to help her friends. Thus she is generous as well as intelligent.