The first (and most obvious) character who is helped by Portia is Antonio. She discovered a flaw in what Shylock believed to be a flawless plan. Just when Shylock thought that he had finally found a judge who was on his sidePortia bailed Antonio out when Bassanio could not, even though Bassanio was responsible for getting his friend into that situation.
Jessica and Lorenzo were running from the law since they stole from Jessica’s father when they eloped. This was beginning to wear their relationship thin. “Lorenzo: In such a night / Did Jessica steal from the wealthy Jew, / And with an unthrift love did run from Venice / As far as Belmont. / Jessica: In such a night / Did young Lorenzo swear he loved her well, / Stealing her soul with many vows of faith, / And ne’er a true one.” (5.1.13-20) Jessica blames Lorenzo for all of their problems. This is resolved by Portia later in act five. She makes sure that Shylock writes a will leaving all of his money and assets to Lorenzo and Jessica when he dies. Portia disguises herself as the judge’s protégé and arrive at the court during Antonio’s trial. She then uses her wit to twist the words of Shylock’s loan around. She points out that, as Shylock was trying to kill another man, he is in the wrong as far as the law is concerned. The penalty for this is to have one half of Shylock’s assets go to Antonio and the other half is in the hands of the Duke. The Duke leaves the decision of what to do up to Antonio, who decides to leave it to “the gentleman / That lately stole his daughter.” This solves any financial problems they may have had in the future, gets them out of trouble with the law, and relieves the strain that these things had put on their relationship.
Portia also pulls her husband Bassanio out of his mess. Bassanio got Antonio into quite a jam. He asked for a great deal of money from Antonio when he knew that all of Antonio’s money was away with his ships. Antonio backed a loan for Bassanio anyway, however, because he felt that it was his obligation as a lifelong friend. Bassanio asked for this money in order to court Portia, putting his childhood playmate into danger, and then was not clever enough to save him from Shylock. Portia arrives and knows exactly how to fix the mess that her new husband has made of his friend’s livelihood. Even as Portia is repairing these damages, Bassanio tries to solve it his own way, interrupting Portia repeatedly. “Bassanio: Here is the money. / Portia: Soft! / The Jew shall have justice. Soft, no haste. / He shall have nothing but the penalty.” (4.1.317-320)
The relationships of Portia and Bassanio and Nerissa and Gratiano are also influenced by Portia. The latter of these couples met only through the meeting of Portia and Bassanio and the four were married together. They seem to be deeply in love, but only a fool would entrust their life to someone they have no knowledge of their prior experiences. Portia tests the morality of the men in both of these relationships, but at the same time, she knows how to do so without allowing the relationships to fall apart. “Portia: Speak not so grossly.¾You are all amazed. / (takes out a letter) / Here is a letter. Read it at your leisure. / It comes from Padua, from Bellario. / There you shall find that Portia was the doctor, / Nerissa there her clerk.” (5.1.263-270) When Portia reveals her disguise, everyone is shocked and bewildered. After the idea sinks in for a while, though, Bassanio and Gratiano realize that it was not done out of distrust, but out of a concern for their relationships.
The last and most unlikely character who is helped by Portia is Shylock. Shylock obviously plays the greedy and obnoxious Jew. He thinks of nothing but his money and assets how to make sure it stays his. So, naturally, it is Shylock’s worst nightmare when Portia takes away everything he was so stingy about. She tells him that since he tried to take “The party ‘gainst the which he doth contrive / Shall seize one half of his goods. The other half / Comes to the privy coffer of the state, / And the offender’s life lies in the mercy / Of the Duke only ‘gainst all other voice.” (4.1.344-361) Although there is no textual evidence supporting this theory, Portia’s actions may prove to relieve Shylock (and the entire city of Venice) of his greedy, rotten streak.
In the play The Merchant of Venice, Portia starts out as a seemingly insignificant character, merely influencing the characters within the subplot. It may seem to the reader that Antonio is the hero of the play, however, as the play comes to an end, Portia evolves as a hero, saving the major characters from their troubles. She leaves for Venice with the goal of testing the ties of her marriage and she ends up bettering (or saving) the lives of the other characters. Portia is the heroine of The Merchant of Venice.
Word Count: 1040