Why does Portia refuse to marry the Scottish lord in Act one, Scene 2?    

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this scene in Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice", Portia is reciting why she has refused a variety of suitors. Her comments are meant primarily to show off her wit and education. Interestingly, many of her comments are not focused on the men as individuals but instead on various stereotypes concerning their nationalities. Her actual lines concerning the Scottish lord are:

PORTIA. That he hath a neighbourly charity in him, for he borrowed a box of the ear of the Englishman, and swore he would pay him again when he was able; I think the Frenchman became his surety, and sealed under for another.

First, this comes directly after insulting an English baron for being insular and monolingual. Thus we get a sense that the Scots have the bad qualities of the English made worse by lack of courage and military prowess. The Scot here is being condemned for not standing up to the English and avenging insults to himself/his country. 

Secondly, though, the sense of borrowing but not repaying suggests a second stereotype, namely that the Scots are famously thrifty, and thus do not pay their debts. 

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act one, Scene 2, Portia discusses with Nerissa the various reasons why she refuses to marry any of the previous suitors. After Portia lists why the Neapolitan prince, Count Palatine, and Falconbridge, the English baron are not fit to marry her, Nerissa asks Portia about the Scottish lord. Portia sarcastically comments that he has neighborly charity and is very forgiving since the Englishman boxed his ears and he did not retaliate. Rather than defend himself, the Scottish lord threatened to pay the Englishman back. Then, the Frenchman agreed to help the Scottish lord, but never did, which guaranteed him another another beating from the Englishman. Portia wittingly mocks the Scottish lord's inability to defend himself against the English who took control of Scotland. However, Portia does not go into further detail as to why she chooses not to marry him. One can surmise that his lack of masculinity and willingness to defend his country against invasion is the reason he is not a serious candidate to marry Portia.

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The Merchant of Venice

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