What does Portia think about the conditions her father has imposed upon her in The Merchant of Venice?

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robertwilliam eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Portia's father has insisted that all suitors to her must choose one of the caskets, gold, silver or lead. If they find her picture inside, they get to marry her. If they don't find her picture, they have to leave her alone, never to see her again.

Her father came up with this idea on his deathbed, Nerissa tells us:

Your father was ever virtuous; and holy men at their death have good inspirations; therefore, the lottery that he hath devised in these three chests, of gold, silver, and lead, (whereof who chooses his meaning chooses you) will, no doubt, never be chosen by any rightly, but one who you shall rightly love.

Does it necessarily follow though, that that will be the case! Well, I don't think so. And Portia doesn't think so either - she finds it frustrating and ridiculous that she isn't allowed to make her own choice:

But this reasoning is not in the fashion to
choose me a husband:—O me, the word choose! I may neither choose whom I would, nor refuse whom I dislike; so is the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead father:—Is it not hard, Nerissa, that I cannot choose one, nor refuse none?

Portia doesn't find it easy to cope with her father's control: her will is "curbed" (limited or restried) by what he wants. And she finds it "hard" (difficult to bear) that she cannot make her own choice. I'd feel the same,  I think!

Hope it helps!

theresawest | Student

Notice how Portia's rhyming song to Bassanio hints that the lead casket is the one that ought to be chosen. Many of the words in her song rhyme with "lead." In singing her song, Portia finds a way to circumvent her father's authority without being boldly disobedient.

Through Portia, Shakespeare sends a message that the strongest women are those who find their feminine strength within the context of the Renaissance hierarchy, which positioned fathers and then husbands as superiors to daughters and wives.  Portia accepts her role as dutiful daughter and obediently follows out the will of her father who wished for Portia to choose her husband through a game of riddles that he devised before his death.  Portia expresses frustration with the level of control her father has over her life, as shown when she says to her waiting-gentlewoman, “…so is the / will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead/ father.  Is it not hard, Nerissa, that I cannot choose one / nor refuse none?” (I.ii.23-26).  Despite her displeasure, Portia is obedient.   Daughterly obedience-- a value of high importance during the Renaissance—is explored throughout many of Shakespeare’s plays, most notably through Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, King Lear and Othello.  Portia remains obedient to her father but is still able to find a sense of individual strength within the context of her duties as daughter and wife.  Portia does not boldly defy her father's authority as do some of Shakespeare's other heroines such as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. 

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The Merchant of Venice

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