Why is Portia melancholy in The Merchant of Venice?

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When the audience is first introduced to Portia in the second scene of the play, she is portrayed as a sad, melancholy individual who tells her close friend Nerissa that her "little body is aweary of this great world." Portia goes on to lament her difficult situation. The audience learns that Portia has no say in who she will marry and cannot reject or accept any suitor because of her father's declaration on his deathbed. Before Portia's father passed away, he decreed that a potential suitor interested in Portia must solve a riddle and correctly choose from three caskets in order to win his daughter's hand in marriage. Before any suitor reads the three riddles, he must also agree to never marry if he chooses the wrong casket. Portia is not only depressed about the fact that she cannot choose her own suitor but is also upset with her potential prospects. Out of all the men willing to read the riddles and choose a casket, Portia is not attracted to any of them and worries that she will detest the person who chooses the correct casket. The audience sympathizes with Portia's difficult situation and understands why she is so melancholy.

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When we first meet Portia in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, she proves to be a very melancholy individual, despite her vast riches and elite status as an heiress of Belmont. As we get to know Portia better, however, we begin to understand the source of Portia's sadness. Portia is primarily melancholy because she doesn't have any control over her own romantic affairs, as her father decreed any man who wishes to marry her must solve an elaborate riddle. The riddle involves three caskets: one is silver, one is gold, and one is lead. Any man who wishes to marry Portia must pick the correct casket out of the three, a task that proves maddeningly difficult. To make matters worse, it's apparent Portia does not really like most of the men vying for her hand in marriage. Indeed, her descriptions of her primary suitors illustrate her contempt for many of them. As such, it's hardly a surprise that Portia struggles with melancholy when we first meet her, as the obstacles she faces would be enough to frustrate any person. 

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