What are the similarities of Portia and Shylock in Merchant of Venice?

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lynnebh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although Portia is supposed to represent “good” in this play and Shylock “evil”, they share some qualities. Both of them can be manipulative and each of them, in their own way, fails to extend mercy. Shylock refuses to extend mercy to Antonio. When the duke and Antonio’s friends ask Shylock to drop his case against him, he refuses. He insists on getting his “pound of flesh.” Even though Portia gives a passionate speech on the quality of mercy, when she realizes she has the advantage over Shylock, she refuses to extend mercy to him. While Shylock is prejudiced against Christians, Portia shows her own prejudices. She describes her suitors with ethnic slurs, telling her maid about Morocco

“If he have the condition of a saint and the complexion of a devil, I had rather he should shrive me than wive me.”

She also says of Morocco:

“A gentle riddance. Draw the curtains: go.  Let all of his complexion choose me so."

At times Portia appears as judgmental, malicious and narrow-minded about others as Shylock is about Christians.

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The Merchant of Venice

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