Opinion Piece Essay
Most times in William Shakespeare’s plays there would be a full of complex characters, that when there thoroughly analyzed show their true personalities. This is true in his famous play, The Merchant of Venice, the character Portia is not the helpless and innocent young women many other characters perceive her to be but in reality she is completely different. Shakespeare shows Portia’s true colours when she makes racist jokes towards Jews and people of dark complexion. Also, she is disrespectful by mocking how other characters dress, and talk bad things about their mothers.
First, during the era of Shakespeare most people were not as respectable to each other like today’s society. Portia might look like a nice humble person but in reality she is racist. While Portia is disguised as Doctor Balthazar during the trial, overlooking the case between Antonio and Shylock, she says to the court, “The Jew shall have all Justice; soft, no haste; He shall have nothing but the penalty” (IV,I, 319-320). During the case she only refers to Shylock as “Jew”, were as, she calls everyone else by their real name. This shows that Portia has no respect for Shylock or Jewish people, by using their religious name to call him and make him feel inferior to her and everyone else.
Second, Portia is not the kind of person Bassanio thinks she is, when she is talking about the Moroccan prince she says, “If I could bid the fifth welcome with so good heart as I can bid the other four farewell, I should be glad of his approach. If he have the Condition of a saint, and the complexion of a devil, I had rather he should shrive me than wive me” (I, ii, 116-120). Portia without even meeting Prince Morocco, rejects him for having a dark complexion. Portia does not care if he's nice and caring guy, the colour of his skin is more important than his personality to Portia. Portia’s racism is shown throughout the play and is sometimes overshadowed by other characters feelings towards her.
Thirdly, women especially from the era the play was written in, are supposed to be honest, nice and in particular respectful, however Portia shows that she doesn't follow this way of life. Nerissa, Portia’s lady in waiting asks Portia what she thinks of her suitor, the Neapolitan Prince. Portia responds saying, “Ay, that’s a colt indeed, for he doth nothing but talk of his horse; and he makes it a great appropriation to his own good parts that he can show him himself. I am much afeared my lady his mother played false with a smith” (I, ii, 38-42). Portia begins talking rudely behind the prince back. Then she ends the conversation with making a joke about the prince’s mother, having an affair with a smith. In Shakespeare era this would be very scandalous and disrespectful. Also, when Nerissa asks Portia, about a different suitor Falconbridge, Portia says, “He is a proper man’s picture, but alas who can converse with a dumbshow? How oddly he is suited! I think he bought his doublet in Italy, his round hose in France, his bonnet in Germany and his behaviour everywhere” (I, ii, 66-70). Portia starts by insulting the man’s intelligence, referring to him as a “dumbshow”. This is very degrading regardless of gender. She then continues to further degrade him behind his back, by mocking the way he dresses. Although, Bassanio leads people to believe Portia is kind, honest, respectful, and that she is in reality the total opposite of his image of her. The reader see’s Portia‘s real personality when she makes racist jokes and talking wrongly of her suitors and their mothers.
In conclusion, Portia shows racism by how she talks to Shylock, and what she thinks of people with dark skin. Also, she shows disrespect to her suitors by making fun of their interests, mother, intelligence, and the way they dress. Bassanio is too wrapped up with Portia’s money and beauty to see she is racist, and disrespectful.