Merchant Of Venice Portia English Literature Essay

2011 EOY Paper

In "The Merchant of Venice", Portia in Belmont is vastly different from Portia in Venice. To what extent do you agree with this statement?

Stand: Portia in Belmont is vastly different from Portia in Venice.

Thesis: Portia in Belmont is vastly different from Portia in Venice. By showing how one acts differently in different settings due to disguise, Shakespeare intends to show the liquidity of a person’s character and how it can be easily manipulated as a false appearance for personal needs and benefits.

Point 1: Portia is in her natural physical self in Belmont of being someone which many suitors came for her, and is world renowned, while she disguises herself as a male in Venice and kept cover as just a doctor until she left Venice.

Portia always have the demeanor of a well-mannered lady in Belmont and that she is richly sought after many suitors.

In Belmont is a lady richly left; And she is fair, and, fairer than that word,

Of wondrous virtues:

Renowned suitors, and her sunny locks

Hang on her temples like a golden fleece;

Many Jasons come in quest of her.

In Venice, Portia had to act like a male doctor during the trial scene. This is evident from the other characters also present in the court not noticing her real identity.

A Daniel come to judgment!

Here 'tis, most reverend doctor, here it is.

O noble judge! O excellent young man!

Point 2: Portia has little power in Belmont while having much more authority in Venice.

Patriarchal dominance in Belmont, showing how choice of marriage was limited to Portia

O me, the word ‘choose'! I may neither choose whom I would nor refuse whom I

dislike; so is the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead father.

This was overcome in Belmont when Portia disguised herself as the male doctor, Balthazar, as she was given recognition by the people in the Venetian court in Act 4, exemplified by the Duke saying to Portia well-manneredly:

You are welcome: take your place. Are you acquainted with the difference

That holds this present question in the court?

Point 3: Portia discusses more of love and choice in the domestic sphere of Belmont, but in Venice, she instead talks about law, justice, money and mercy.

In Belmont, mostly she talks about her marriage, her comments of the suitors and how she was restricted by her dead father’s will that forbade her from choosing her own husband and had to depend on the casket test instead. In the last Act she was also acting furious with Bassanio for him losing his ring which represents her love for him.

A gentle riddance. Draw the curtains, go.

Let all of his complexion choose me so.

Thus hath the candle singed the moth. (Morocco)

O, these deliberate fools! when they do choose,

They have the wisdom by their wit to lose. (Arragon)

Come, come, Nerissa; for I long to see

Quick Cupid's post that comes so mannerly. (Bassanio)

Stand: Portia in Belmont is not vastly different from Portia in Venice.

Thesis: Portia in Belmont is not vastly different from Portia in Venice. By showing how one’s display of character and actions are recurring, Shakespeare may be intending to show that different settings may cause one to react differently, however, much of the similarities stay as one’s qualities cannot be disguised.

Point 1: Both Portia in Venice and in Belmont put on false appearances.

In Belmont, although to many suitors she was respectful and replied politely to them, after they left without courting her, she spits out many negative remarks she had about them.

Yourself, renowned prince, then stood as fair as any comer I have look'd on yet for my affection. (Morocco)

A gentle riddance. Draw the curtains, go. Let all of his complexion choose me so. (Morocco)

noble prince (Arragon)

Thus hath the candle singed the moth. O, these deliberate fools! when they do choose, they have the wisdom by their wit to lose. (Arragon)

Point 2: Both Portia in Venice and in Belmont are well respected in either way.

Portia always have the demeanor of a well-mannered lady in Belmont and that she is richly sought after many suitors.

In Belmont is a lady richly left; And she is fair, and, fairer than that word,

Of wondrous virtues:

Renowned suitors, and her sunny locks

Hang on her temples like a golden fleece;

Many Jasons come in quest of her.

In Venice, Portia was able to save Antonio from Shylock’s claiming of the forfeiture of the flesh bond and earned much respect to the extent that Antonio and Bassanio gave away their gloves and ring respectively to Portia as a token gift.

Sir, I entreat you home with me to dinner.

Antonio, gratify this gentleman,

For, in my mind, you are much bound to him.

Dear sir, of force I must attempt you further:

And stand indebted, over and above,

In love and service to you evermore.

Take some remembrance of us, as a tribute,

Not as a fee: grant me two things, I pray you,

Not to deny me, and to pardon me.

Point 3: Both Portia in Venice and in Belmont prove herself to be more capable than men by outsmarting them.

In the last Act, back at Belmont, she managed to fool Bassanio and catch him being unfaithful to her by breaking the promise and giving away the ring. This shows that although she may have given all her property and even rights to Bassanio, she is still smarter than him and Bassanio should listen to her over issues in the domestic sector.

Mark you but that!

In both my eyes he doubly sees himself;

In each eye, one: swear by your double self,

And there's an oath of credit.

I had it of him: pardon me, Bassanio;

For, by this ring, the doctor lay with me.

In Venice, she was able to save Antonio from Shylock’s clutches by finding a loophole in the flesh bond which the other men in the court completely failed to do so, not even the Duke or Bassanio, who supposedly had the intelligence to choose the right casket and court Portia. This shows that Portia, even as a female, is smarter than them and much more capable.

Shed thou no blood, nor cut thou less nor more

But just a pound of flesh: if thou cut'st more

Or less than a just pound

Thou diest and all thy goods are confiscate.

In "The Merchant of Venice", rebellion brings its own rewards. Discuss.

Stand: Rebellion does bring its own rewards.

Thesis: Rebellion does bring its own rewards. By showing how one gains what one hopes for through rebellion, Shakespeare intends to show that rebellion is a mean to gaining personal desires by eliminating current worries.

Point 1: Portia rebelled against her dead father’s wishes by intentionally dropping hints to Bassanio about the correct choice of casket, the man she is infatuated with and as a result, attained Bassanio as her husband.

Portia wanted Bassanio as the one who chooses the correct casket as she fell in love with his image of being a "Venetian, a scholar and a soldier that came hither

in company of the Marquis of Montferrat". Her hints then came in the song which was played exclusively to Bassanio. It contained hints such as words that rhyme with lead and telling Bassanio to kill the desire that is born with sight and that looks are deceiving.

Tell me where is fancy bred, or in the heart, or in the head?

How begot, how nourished? Reply, reply.

It is engender'd in the eyes, with gazing fed; and fancy dies

In the cradle where it lies. Let us all ring fancy's knell

I'll begin it,--Ding, dong, bell.

Point 2: Jessica fled from Shylock’s patriarchal household by eloping with Lorenzo to escape religious oppression and as a result, she managed to convert to Christianity and helped her to blend in with the Venetian society while also gaining a happy marital relationship, both of which was what she wanted.

Jessica was exasperated that Shylock wanted to keep out Christian influences from her although she desired it as this will mean an end to religious discrimination against her in her view. She even says that "[Shylock’s] house is hell". Therefore, she rebelled against patriarchal dominance by eloping with Lorenzo so that she could not be claimed back by Shylock and successfully converted to a Christian, which made her more accepted in the Venetian society and thus achieved her purpose of rebellion.

If thou keep promise, I shall end this strife, become a Christian and thy loving wife.

There is more difference between [Shylock’s] flesh and [Jessica’s] than between jet and ivory; more between [their] bloods than there is between red wine and rhenish. 

Point 3: Launcelot escaped Shylock’s household and ran over on the side of Bassanio on the ground of religious differences and in the end, had a master whom he would be glad working for.

Launcelot could not tolerate the fact that he was a Christian and yet Shylock is a Jew. He regards him as a devil and dislikes him. He even mentioned that he would not give him presents even though he is Shylock’s servant, and would rather "give him a halter". Launcelot also complains that Shylock mistreats him as well by not feeding him enough food. By escaping and rebelling against Shylock’s actions and religion, he was able to find his perceived freedom and happiness by being the servant of a Christian instead, who turns out to be Bassanio.

My master's a very Jew: give him a present! give him a halter

I am famished in his service; you may tell every finger I have with

my ribs.

for I am a Jew, if I serve the Jew any longer.

Stand: Rebellion does not bring its own rewards.

Thesis: Rebellion does not bring its own rewards. Through showing how one does not fully gain what one hopes for through rebellion and that one may end up in an even worse state than before, Shakespeare intends to show that rebellion many not always get what one desires, and sometimes, it may even have a backlash effect.

Point 1: Portia rebelled against her dead father’s wishes by intentionally dropping hints to Bassanio about the correct choice of casket, the man she is infatuated with and as a result, attained Bassanio as her husband. However, Bassanio turns out to be one who does not truly love her and is not completely loyal to her.

Bassanio did not meet her expectations of being a "Venetian, a scholar and a soldier that came hither in company of the Marquis of Montferrat" who will love her and place her above anything else like he had promised before taking the ring. Yet, on Antonio’s request, he still gave the ring to Balthazar who is Portia in disguise, meaning that Antonio’s friendship with him was more important than her love relationship with him. Therefore, the rebellion did not turn out as what Portia wanted: a loyal and faithful husband who truly loves her.

But when this ring parts from this finger, then parts life from hence:

O, then be bold to say Bassanio's dead! (Bassanio)

My Lord Bassanio, let him have the ring: let his deservings and my love withal

Be valued against your wife's commandment. (Antonio)

Go, Gratiano, run and overtake him; give him the ring, and bring him, if thou canst, unto Antonio's house: away! make haste. (Bassanio)

Point 2: Jessica fled from Shylock’s patriarchal household by eloping with Lorenzo to escape religious oppression and as a result, she managed to convert to Christianity and helped her to blend in with the Venetian society while also gaining a happy marital relationship, both of which was what she wanted. However, she still has not found true happiness, as she does not feel happy with Lorenzo being her husband.

Jessica was exasperated that Shylock wanted to keep out Christian influences from her although she desired it as this will mean an end to religious discrimination against her in her view. She even says that "[Shylock’s] house is hell". Therefore, she rebelled against patriarchal dominance by eloping with Lorenzo so that she could not be claimed back by Shylock and successfully converted to a Christian, which made her more accepted in the Venetian society. However, she still has not yet achieved her purpose completely because she did not completely blend in with the Christians but merely became one. Also, the marital relationship she had with Lorenzo was an uncertain and shaky one.

In such a night did Jessica steal from the wealthy Jew

And with an unthrift love did run from Venice as far as Belmont.

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. (foreshadows breakdown of marital relations and Jessica unable to find happiness)

In such a night did pretty Jessica, like a little shrew, sander her love, and he forgave it her.

I would out-night you, did no body come.

Point 3: Shylock tries to rebel against the Christian society in general by exacting revenge on Antonio and attempting to murder him with the forfeit of the flesh bond. However, he fails to get his original wants and a loophole was discovered by Portia instead, causing his rebellion to leave him in tatters as his property and Jewish religion was also taken away.

Shylock was fed up for being a victim of religious discrimination by the Christians, especially Antonio, and hence wanted to rebel by taking revenge. His plan almost succeeds until Portia exploits the loopholes in the flesh bond to cause his property to be given out to Lorenzo and Jessica after his death as well as him converting to a Christian. From this, we can hence see that rebellion may not be beneficial to one, but may instead harm one.

So please my lord the duke and all the court to quit the fine for one half of his goods, I am content;

he will let me have the other half in use, upon his death, unto the gentleman that lately stole his daughter

he presently become a Christian

of all he dies possess'd unto his son Lorenzo and his daughter. (Antonio)

2009 EOY Paper

Love and hate influence the decisions and actions of the characters in The Merchant of Venice. Discuss the validity of this statement with close reference to the following characters-Shylock, Bassanio and Jessica.

Stand: Love and hate does influence the decisions and actions of the characters in The Merchant of Venice.

Thesis: By showing how love and hate influences the decisions and actions of the characters in The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare intends to show that strong emotions are often what drives a person to commit actions and promises that can be extreme.

Point 1: Shylock was so intent on exactly revenge on Antonio because he was locked in a cycle of hate with Antonio, stemming from religious differences, as well as his general hate for the Christian society in general.

This is further incited by his fury after losing his only daughter and further more knowing that she eloped with a Christian, increasing his hate towards the Christians.

I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him.

The villany you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.

These be the Christian husbands. I have a daughter; Would any of the stock of Barrabas had been her husband rather than a Christian!

Point 2: Bassanio’s platonic love for Antonio affected him such that he was willing to even give Portia’s ring to Balthazar who is in fact Portia in disguise as a token of gratitude even though the ring meant his love for Portia.

From Shakespeare’s source for the Merchant of Venice, II Pecorone, AnSaldo and Gianetto, resembled by Antonio and Bassanio, are godfather and godson who are in a relationship of platonic love. Salanio and Salerino also mentioned Bassanio as Antonio’s "most noble kinsman". Hence, we can infer that Bassano and Antonio are likewise in a relationship of platonic love.

Bassanio considered his platonic love with Antonio to be greater and more important than his love for Portia.

Antonio, I am married to a wife which is as dear to me as life itself;

But life itself, my wife, and all the world, are not with me esteem'd above thy life: I would lose all, sacrifice them all, here to this devil, to deliver you.

My Lord Bassanio, let him have the ring: let his deservings and my love withal

Be valued against your wife's commandment. (Antonio)

Go, Gratiano, run and overtake him; give him the ring, and bring him, if thou canst, unto Antonio's house: away! make haste. (Bassanio)

Point 3: Jessica’s hatred for oppression within her patriarchal household caused her to rebel against her father by eloping with Lorenzo and converting to Christianity.

Jessica was exasperated that Shylock wanted to keep out Christian influences from her although she desired it as this will mean an end to religious discrimination against her in her view. She even says that "[Shylock’s] house is hell". Therefore, she rebelled against patriarchal dominance by eloping with Lorenzo so that she could not be claimed back by Shylock and converted to Christianity.

If thou keep promise, I shall end this strife, become a Christian and thy loving wife.

Farewell; and if my fortune be not crossed, I have a father, you a daughter, lost.

Stand: Love and hate does not influence the decisions and actions of the characters in The Merchant of Venice.

Thesis: By showing how love and hate does not influence the decisions and actions of the characters in The Merchant of Venice while one’s values and character does, Shakespeare intends to show that mostly, a person’s behavior, decisions and actions are defined by intrinsic values and character that cannot be exposed to radical changes and extreme emotions are indirect influences instead.

Point 1: Shylock is greatly influenced by religious beliefs that lead to his extreme emotions and hence affects his judgments and actions.

Shylock is strongly bounded and faithful to his Jewish religion. He detests Christianity and Christians in general. Hence, he is prejudiced against Christians without him and often discriminates against them as a result.

What, are there masques? Hear you me, Jessica: Lock up my doors; and when you hear the drum and the vile squealing of the wry-neck'd fife, clamber not you up to the casements then, nor thrust your head into the public street to gaze on Christian fools with varnish'd faces.

How like a fawning publican he looks! I hate him for he is a Christian.

Point 2: Bassanio’s actions are mostly focused on self-gain rather to help others.

Bassanio is a manipulative person who puts up false appearances for self-gain. He hence hides his true emotions most of the times. For example, he appeared to Portia to be "a Venetian, a scholar and a soldier that came hither in company of the Marquis of Montferrat". He displayed true love for Portia, but all he wanted was in fact only her fortunes during his courting of Portia. This is evident from Act 1, where Bassanio says to Antonio how he had disabled his estate "by showing a more swelling port

than my faint means would grant continuance", showing his irresponsibility. Furthermore, he is manipulative and convinces Antonio to lend him money to court Portia, where he says it will help him repay back all his debts that he owes Antonio, clearly regarding her only as a price tag with property value.

I owe you much, and, like a wilful youth,

That which I owe is lost; but if you please

To shoot another arrow that self way

Which you did shoot the first, I do not doubt,

As I will watch the aim, or to find both

Or bring your latter hazard back again

And thankfully rest debtor for the first.

"In Belmont is a lady richly left, / And she is fair [...] Her name is Portia, nothing undervalued [...] Nor is the wide world ignorant of her worth" (1.1.6).

Point 3: Jessica is a person who wanted to become a Christian, unlike her father, hence that developed strong emotions which led to elopement.

Jessica relates herself better to Christians like Launcelot than to Jews like Shylock, even though he is her father. She preferred Christian influences as this will mean an end to religious discrimination against her in her view. She even says that "[Shylock’s] house is hell". Therefore, she rebelled against patriarchal dominance by eloping with Lorenzo so that she could not be claimed back by Shylock and converted to Christianity, both of which are portrayed as acts of abandonment. When Lancelot the clown says Jessica is "damned" to hell because she's the "Jew's daughter," Jessica declares "I shall be saved by my husband. He hath made me a Christian". The idea here is that Jessica's marriage to a Christian man will automatically make her a Christian too. The concept comes from 1 Corinthians 7:14 in the New Testament: "The unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband." As literary critic Janet Adelman points out in Blood Relations, "marriage appears to occur to [Jessica] largely as a way to escape" being her father's daughter. Her extreme emotions are hence developed from her desire to be associated with the Christians rather than the Jews instead, such as openly expressing hate against his father and saying that "[Shylock’s] house is hell".

Alack, what heinous sin is it in me

To be ashamed to be my father's child!

But though I am a daughter to his blood,

I am not to his manners. O Lorenzo,

If thou keep promise, I shall end this strife,

Become a Christian and thy loving wife. 

The characters in The Merchant of Venice serve the purpose of raising an awareness of discrimination that exists in society. With reference to three characters in the play, show how Shakespeare achieves this purpose. Provide evidence from the play to support your answer.

Thesis: By showing how societal discrimination occurs both openly and discretely and its negative impacts, Shakespeare aims to raise an awareness of discrimination that exists in society.

Point 1: Shylock is discriminated against by the Venetian society in general based on religious differences and had suffered much humiliation and losses.

Shylock is a Jew while the Venetian society is populated with Christians. Due to religious differences, he is being discriminated against as evident from his complaints and how the Christians negatively comment on him and rejoice at his demise.

You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, and spit upon my Jewish gaberdine,

He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses,

mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies; and what's his reason? I am a Jew.

The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.

O, be thou damn'd, inexecrable dog!

thy desires are wolvish, bloody, starved and ravenous.

Point 2: Portia is discriminated against by the patriarchal society based on gender differences, especially by her father who restricts her freedom of choice in marriage even after his death.

Portia laments to Nerissa, her servant that her dead father’s will restricted her from choosing her own husband and hence causes her main unhappiness in Belmont as she wanted to have the freedom of choice over her own destiny.

O me, the word ‘choose'! I may neither choose whom I would nor refuse whom I

dislike; so is the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead father.

Point 3: Jessica is discriminated against by the Venetian society based on religious differences as well as by her father for being female, oppressing her freedom.

In the play, we can see how Shylock is often discriminated against by the Jews. Thus, we can hence infer that Jessica still faces racial prejudice from other Christians due to her Jewish origins and religion. Subjected to this racial prejudice, Jessica has therefore so willingly left her father, who is a living representative of Judaism in her life. She says that although "[she is] a daughter to his blood, [she] is not to his manners." This is further supported by her feeling that she has been mistreated by her father and cooped up in his patriarchal household, suppressed of her choice of freedom in her religion. Therefore, in order to gain her perceived freedom, Jessica eloped with Lorenzo so as to "end this strife, become a Christian and [his] loving wife."

Farewell; and if my fortune be not crossed, I have a father, you a daughter, lost.