In "The Merchant of Venice", why is Portia playing the merciless presser of oaths & bonds here, almost a kind of faux Shylock?How does it work to re-install the virtually bankrupt...

In "The Merchant of Venice", why is Portia playing the merciless presser of oaths & bonds here, almost a kind of faux Shylock?

How does it work to re-install the virtually bankrupt discourse of promises, oaths, and bonds? Making this appeal to "shame," "courtesy," and "honour", there is simply no way Portia's sense of justice is here. With the business of the rings, Portia has arranged that a bit of the quarrelsome ethos of Venice be imported to the romanitc world of Belmont. All its otherworldly magical lightness will now be ballasted a bit by the language of promise, law, and contracts. The ring may be but a trifle, but Graziano's oaths have invested it with much value; giving it away raises suspicions of adultery.

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robertwilliam eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Simple answer - because Shylock is not the only merciless presser of oaths and bonds in this play. Everyone is interested in money and bonds in this play, and I think the discourse of these financial promises and obligations is either bankrupt from the start or never bankrupted.

It's one of the key puns of the play, here's Portia in the final scene:

You should in all sense be much bound to him.
For, as I hear, he was much bound for you.

There's lots of ways a person can be "bound" in this play, whether it be through a bond (Shylock-Antonio), being bound by law (everyone in the trial scene) or, of course, another sort of obligation - a debt of honour (as the first of these two lines suggests).

Portia, of course, is "bound" to save Antonio, for she is a Christian and has just given a short sermon on mercy - but, then again, if Antonio is the homosexual partner of her husband Bassanio, there'd be good reasons for cutting those particular ties along with Antonio's flesh.

And that brings me to another sort of bond - that between husband and wife. "Ring", in Shakespeare's england, was a bawdy synonym for "vagina", and the marital contract was a promsie of sexual submission by the woman - represented, many feminist critics would argue, by the exchange of rings. It's an ominous - slightly uncomfortable - sort of "bond" which structures the whole of the last act.

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The Merchant of Venice

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