Themes in the Merchant of Venice
Gender stereotypes are not a modern notion and as such expectations and limitations have always existed for both men and women. Fortunately women, who have formerly beared great burdens of discrimination, now have very liberated roles in society as a result of slowly shifting attitudes and values. Shakespeare was integral in challenging the subservient role expected of women in the 16th century. Throughout the play, ‘The Merchant of Venice’, women are expressed as powerful characters who behave, speak and live in a way that breaks away from the conformist role of females during the 16th century. Therefore, the submissive stereotype expected of women in Shakespearean time is confronted and defied through particular themes in The Merchant of Venice. Characteristics of Portia and jessica, as well as several attributes of the plot in the play, prove that Shakespeare builds his female roles to be confident and powerful, rather than sub-standard to the male equivalent. Overall, this dominant portrayal of women challenges the common Elizabethan stereotypes of gender. The characterisation of Portia, through her actions and overall identity, is perhaps the best illustration of Shakespeare’s defiance of these female stereotypes in the play. At first, Portia appears to conform as an obedient, submissive character, but is later revealed to possess great strength and intelligence when challenging her male counterparts, a very controversial notion of her time. This defiance is exemplified when Portia disguises herself as a male judge to save her husband's best friend, manipulating Shylock, the evil Jew, with such conviction that she forces him to lose everything and Antonio’s life to be kept. The quote spoken by Portia during the court trial, ‘if thou dost shed one drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods are confiscate unto the state’(Act 4, Scene 1, 309-311) ultimately proves Portia’s intelligence as she solves the plot through...
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