Topics: The Merchant of Venice, Woman, Marriage Pages: 4 (1855 words) Published: January 20, 2015
EXAMINE HOW SHAKESPEARE PRESENTS THE TREATMENT OF PORTIA BY MEN IN THE MERCHANT OF VENICE Written in the late 16th century, The Merchant of Venice’s Italian setting and marriage theme are typical of Shakespeare’s earlier comedies. The characters, however, raise this play to new heights, especially that of Portia, Shakespeare’s first great female protagonist. Her character often contradicts that of the typical subservient Elizabethan woman as Shakespeare develops her into the most dominant character in the play. When we first meet Portia in act 1 scene 2, she is complaining to Nerissa: “By my troth, Nerissa, my little body is aweary of this great world” Her attitude shows she is tired and bored with her situation, especially being trapped on Belmont. However, Nerissa points out that she has a lot to be thankful for and Portia is not too proud to acknowledge this truth. Portia replies saying: “I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done, than be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching.” This shows Portia not only as a strong and independent person who knows her own mind, but also as someone who has a practical and realistic outlook on life. This is very different from the qualities of a typical Elizabethan woman – passive, obedient and accepting. We see Shakespeare beginning to build Portia’s personality and increasing our interest in this intriguing and unusual character. Despite her free spirit, however, Portia has very little power outside of Belmont due to the male-dominated society in which she lives. Even her deceased father still wields power over her from the grave. He has her future matrimony bound by his riddles in the notion of the three caskets. Portia herself has no power to choose whether she accepts or rejects a suitor. For her it is a game of watching and waiting and we can see, from a woman whom we already know likes to be in control of situations, that she can only dread it: “O me, the word ‘choose’! I may neither choose who I...
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