Discuss The Portrayal Of Portia And Jessica In The Merchant Of Venice

1804 words - 7 pages

In "The Merchant of Venice" Shakespeare used Portia and Jessica as his stereotypical characters through which he successfully conveyed greatness and challenged the perception of 17th century society. Shakespeare, by doing so, has "accomplished them with what they lacked." Quotation serves to emphasise Shakespeare's drama since the word `accomplished' implies that it is Shakespeare who created the two characters to appear as men's equals and that otherwise this equality would not be attainable within the society of the contemporary time.

At the beginning of the play, Portia appears to have no real identity despite all her greatness and worth whereas Jessica, being a Jew appeared as a character with low self-esteem and emerges as having no commitment to her father's house. Shakespeare furthers this notion by enabling us to recognise Portia's wealth and status as he allows her to appear as very intelligent and bilingual. Portia speaks three languages, that of; French; Latin and Italian clearly emphasising her intelligence as well as ability. Shakespeare by allowing Portia to use rhetoric of law in Act 1 Scene 2 further prevail Portia's greatness. Portia's mention of `devise laws' and `decrees' convey her awareness of legal language and equally the legal sphere of life. However, it seems that at the beginning Shakespeare has given Portia potential but it remained impotent as she did not have the opportunity to use it. We therefore assume further that Shakespeare portrayed Portia's character to comprise of superficial nature; it emerges that Portia is controlled by her father and does thereby hold no control over her life. Her words to Nerissa; "I may neither choose who I would, nor refuse who I dislike, so is the will of a living daughter curb'd by the will of a dead father", clearly evoke her obedience but even more importantly demonstrate her lack of control over her own life. Shakespeare's use of the word `curb'd' imply means of restraints that in this context could provide the notion that Portia is restrained to her own will and thereby completely `bound by her father's will'.

With regards to Jessica's character, Shakespeare endeavoured to generate a slightly different sympathy. Jessica is known to be Shylock's daughter, her character is assumed to be that of low self-esteem and without potential greatness., thus, Jessica is regarded as inferior to other Christians due to her Jewish origins and religion. This is partly manifest through Shakespeare's language and partly through plot's development. Jews in this play are regarded as dehumanised beings as becomes apparent from Antonio's speech that called Shylock a `dog'. Jessica, being biologically bound to her father, is also regarded as inferior to Christians, maybe providing the reason why she eloped with a Christian man in the end. None the less, her low self-esteem is drawn by her acceptance to be Lorenzo's "torch-bearer." Shakespeare provided a negative imagery by Lorenzo's speech....

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