May I have a character sketch for Portia in "The Merchant of Venice"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Portia is the heroine of the play The Merchant of Venice, who marries Bassanio and saves his close friend Antonio by presenting a persuasive, brilliant argument under the guise of a young lawyer. Initially, Portia is portrayed as a melancholy bachelorette, whose love and future are under control of her father's will. Rather than disobeying her deceased father's wishes, Portia demonstrates her loyalty and integrity by relinquishing control of her destiny. While Portia is upset at the various suitors who try their luck winning her hand in marriage by choosing the correct casket, she displays her mercy and tolerance by behaving amiable towards them. Each suitor is given their fair chance, and Portia does not dissuade any of them. After marrying Bassanio, Portia is depicted as a loving, compassionate wife, who risks her well-being and reputation by traveling to Venice in order to save Bassanio's close friend. Portia proceeds to disguise herself as a young lawyer named Balthazar. Portia initially attempts to sway Shylock into having mercy on Antonio, which is something the vengeful usurer refuses to do. Portia then displays her intelligence and just personality by presenting a coherent argument, which saves Antonio's life and punishes Shylock for his vindictive personality. Overall, Portia is presented as a heroine, who embodies many positive character traits throughout the play.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Portia is one of Shakespeare's heroines who turns out to be the hero of the play. Dressed in men's clothes and playing the part of a young lawyer in the courtroom where Antonio's life hangs in the balance, Portia gives an heroic speech that saves the day.

Portia's primary qualities are a love of delicacy, goodness, compassion and mercy. As suitor after suitor comes to try for her hand according to the guidelines in her father's strange will, she mercifully finds ways of dismissing them with the truth, but the truth compassionately disguised so that it doesn't have a painful knife's edge to it. She doesn't tell them she dislikes them, she tells them that they have as fair a chance at winning her hand as any other she has seen.

In private, her great reasoning power and witty facility with words prepares us for the role she later plays as a lawyer. She must have wit and wisdom to win in a court of law and this is precisely what she does have. She elaborates for Nerissa and us on her disdain for the imperfections of the suitors, a disdain that she delicately hid from their knowledge.

Finally, it is Portia's plea for mercy on Antonio's behalf that saves him from Shylock's exacting knife of justice and revenge. It is mercy that we have seen at work as Portia turns away unwanted suitors. In both cases, Portia with her suitors and Shylock's court case, the facts and the truth are clearly known. In court, Shylock presents the facts; at her estate, Portia presents the facts. Portia's wisdom sets the precedent for Shylock to extend mercy regardless of the truth of the facts.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial