What is the relationship between Nerissa and Gratiano in "The Merchant of Venice"?
Nerissa and Gratiano's relationship is a traditional one, in keeping with most marriages of the time. Gratiano is very much the dominant partner in the marriage, with Nerissa occupying a more subordinate role. That said, Nerissa shows herself to be an intelligent woman, acting as a trusted confidante to Portia. She also shows herself to be highly spirited, more than able to stand up for herself. For instance, she loudly berates her husband for breaking his solemn promise to her; he gave away their wedding ring to a lawyer's clerk as payment of a fee. As with most relationships, then, their marriage has its fair share of ups and downs.
But, on the whole, one would have to say that Nerissa and Gratiano's marriage is very much a love match. In that sense, they are emulating the example of Portia and Bassanio, whose relationship theirs closely mirrors. Indeed, Portia also berates Bassanio for giving away his wedding ring to the lawyer who saved Antonio. Though, of course, it was Portia in disguise who actually tricked him into parting with the ring. But both couples, being so terribly in love as they are, subsequently reconcile, demonstrating the importance, once more, of following the example of one's social betters.
The relationship between Nerissa and Gratiano mirrors Portia and Bassanio's compassionate, supportive, and healthy relationship. Both Nerissa and Gratiano are portrayed as loyal, trustworthy friends, who are willing to follow and support Portia and Bassanio through difficult times. Gratiano accompanies Bassanio to Belmont, where Nerissa agrees to marry Gratiano if Bassanio chooses the correct casket for Portia. After Bassanio picks the right casket to win Portia, Nerissa and Gratiano get married alongside Bassanio and Portia. Similar to Portia, Nerissa allows Gratiano to accompany Bassanio back to Venice in order to save Antonio's life. Nerissa then disguises herself as Portia's assistant when the two women travel to Venice and intervene in Antonio's trial. After Portia saves Antonio's life, she convinces Bassanio to give up his ring, and Nerissa follows suit by also persuading her husband to give up his ring. In the end, Portia and Nerissa reveal their true identities and both couples remain happily married. Overall, Nerissa and Gratiano share a loving, supportive, and healthy relationship.
In William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, Nerissa is the intelligent and savvy waiting woman of the play's heroine, Portia, while Gratiano is the loud-mouthed but good friend of Bassanio. These supporting characters seem to do exactly that: support and serve as reflections of their protagonist counterparts.
The relationship between Nerissa and Gratiano develops as a mirroring of the relationship between Portia and Bassanio; when Portia and Bassanio get married after Bassanio passes Portia's father's test, Nerissa follows suit and marries Gratiano. This seems to make the bond between Portia and Bassanio even stronger, as it is a match reinforced by the union of the two people who are around them the most. Although neither Nerissa nor Gratiano are particularly independent or capable of resolving problems on their own, together they are able to join forces in reinforcing the integrity of their friends' relationship. Ultimately, they are loyal to each other and loyal to Portia and Bassanio.
Like Portia and Bassanio, Nerissa and Gratiano are in love and get married during the play. The eNotes study guide describes the two marriages as "almost a mirror image":
Nerissa imitates the actions and embraces the values of her mistress. In the copycat wedding of Nerissa and Gratiano and in the parallels of the ring subplot, The Merchant of Venice offers a lesson in Elizabethan social conduct: lower-class persons should mimic their social superiors.
The scene with the two couples and the missing rings in Act V serves as comic relief after Shylock's "trial."
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