Discuss Portia’s character. How does she compare to the men around her? Is Bassanio a worthy husband for her?
Portia has no comparison in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. No one truly matches her wit and energy. She loves Bassanio, a Venetian scholar and a soldier who had visited her home when her father was alive. Portia is a witty and energetic young woman like most of Shakespeare’s heroines. In the initial scenes of the drama, Bassanio mentions her as a beauty with golden locks of hair running down her forehead. She has inherited an immense fortune and is as rich as the Roman beauty Portia, the wife of Brutus. Her wealth and beauty are famous and influential people from worldwide are competing to win her hand.
Bassanio has seen love in her eyes. He worries that only if he had enough money, he could marry her. Surrounded by men trying to win her, Portia only considers Bassanio a suitable match. She is intelligent and the only character with the intelligence to foil Shylock’s evil plan. Most of the suitors who have come to marry her are devoid of the traits she wants in her husband. Portia tells Nerissa about her dilemma and the lottery her dying father has left behind. She has to obey her father’s wish, and Bassanio would have to take the test. Otherwise, she could choose Bassanio of her own free will.
She jokes about the suitors that come to win her hand. The Prince of Naples keeps talking of horses, whose mother Portia says, must have had an affair with a blacksmith. Of the always frowning Count Palatine, she thinks he is rather too sad and solemn to become her groom. She holds interesting and funny opinions of her other suitors also. However, Bassanio’s name excites her. Of all the men around her, it is only Bassanio whom she considers worthy. She is sharp and diligent. Her father has cleverly designed the game to find her the most honest suitor. The one who loves her honestly will choose the right casket. She is afraid that Bassanio may choose the wrong casket and lose her. So, she requests him to wait for two months before taking the test. Apart from being intelligent, she is romantic, and often her words are filled with love and longing. Half of her heart belongs to Bassanio, and the half that remains with her also belongs to him. If her father’s wish did not bind her, she would have told Bassanio of the right box. However, Bassanio turns out to be a true and worthy lover who selects the right casket after careful consideration. The test proves him a wise man and a fit husband for Portia.
When she defeats Shylock and saves Antonio’s life, she demonstrates that she has more common sense than the men around her. The cruel Jew had formed a monstrous plan. No one could find a solution, and while Antonio has all the sympathy of the audience, only a miracle could save him from Shylock. While others keep trying to persuade the Jew to be kind to Antonio and cancel the contract, she takes his challenge and defeats him mid-court, making his challenge appear like a child’s play. Portia wrestles Antonio’s life away from Shylock’s hands. She analyzes the deal between the two to identify the loophole in it. Shylock’s bond was not unchallengeable after all. He can take a pound of flesh but no blood with it. That’s how Portia saves Antonio’s life from Shylock.
In the court of law, Portia demonstrates excellent wit and judgment. She has not lost hope like the others but patiently keeps the Jew engaged and listens and responds to his claims with a calm and cheerful demeanor. Portia exposes his brutality before all, leading to the harsh punishment the Jew receives at the end. Bassanio feels blessed to have her as a wife who is beautiful, graceful, and wealthy but still untouched by vanity. However, despite it all, she is not as simple as it appears at the surface. Portia feels lonely after her father’s death and finds solace in Bassanio’s company. She hates the dull and uninteresting men around her who are attracted by her wealth and beauty. However, there is nothing to demonstrate that Portia is an ordinary girl who depends on men. Whenever she can find an opportunity, she teases Bassanio but without making it too painful for him. It is because Portia loves him truly and deeply. It shows that she will make a fine wife for Bassanio and not let the flame of romance die. Bassanio loves and respects her, for she is truly noble, and she is just as dear to him as his friend Antonio. In him, Portia will find a noble and loyal husband.