- Portia (Merchant of Venice)
Portia is the heroine of
William Shakespeare's " The Merchant of Venice". A rich, beautiful, very intelligent heiress, she is bound by the lottery set forth in her father's will, which gives potential suitors the chance to choose between three caskets consisting of gold, silver and lead. If they choose the right casket they win Portia's hand in marriage. Portia favours Bassanio, but is not allowed to give him any clues to assist in his choice. Later in the play, she disguises herself as a man, then assumes the role of a judge whereby she saves the life of Bassanio's friend, Antonio, in court. She disguises herself as Balthasar, a young doctor of law.
Portia on the outside is one of the most prominent of Shakespeare's heroines in his mature romantic comedies. She is beautiful, gracious, rich, intelligent, quick witted and with high standards in men. As well, she obeys her father's will while having a determination to obtain Bassanio while being tactful to the Princes of Morocco and Arragon who unsuccessfully seek her hand. In the court scenes, Portia finds a technicality in the bond, thereby outwitting
Shylockand saving Antonio's life when everyone else fails. It is Portia who delivers one of the most famous speeches in "The Merchant of Venice":
:"The quality of mercy is not strain'd.":"It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven":"Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:":"It blesseth him that gives and him that takes."
The strength of Portia as a role has made it attractive to many notable actresses.
Frances Abington, Sarah Siddonsand Elizabeth Whitlockall played the role in the 18th century when actresses first started appearing on stage. More recently, the role has been played in the cinema and on television by a number of notable actresses such as Maggie Smith, Claire Bloom, Sybil Thorndikeand Joan Plowright.
New England School of Lawwas originally known as the Portia Law School when it was established in 1908 as a women only law school, and was known by that name until 1969. In his 'Rumpole' novels (filmed for the ITV series),author John Mortimerhas Rumpole call Phillida Erskine-Brown (née Trant) the "Portia of our Chambers". Despite Portia's lack of formal legal training her ingenuity is of the variety exhibited by what is known as a Philadelphia lawyer(i.e., a lawyer who prevails on technicalities rather than the legal merits of his argument). [If Portia had made an argument on the merits of Shylock's claim she would have argued that the contract was invalid for some reason or simply unconscionable. By asserting the contract's validity and strictly enforcing it against Shylock she is exploiting his failure to include in the bond what lawyers call a further assurancesprovision, which would enable Shylock to shed blood as a natural byproduct of removing flesh.]
In 1986, a moon of
Uranuswas named after Portia (see Uranus' natural satellites). A version of the character has even appeared in the Mirror Universe of Star Trek.
Portia does not only have positive reviews of her nature. The famous Jewish writer Wolf Mankovitz dubbed her a "cold, snobbish little bitch" in a video he made about anti-Semitism against Shylock.
* [http://www.cliffsnotes.com/WileyCDA/LitNote/id-76,pageNum-46.html Cliffs Notes on the Merchant of Venice]
* [http://www.bardweb.net/plays/06.html Shakespeare Resource Centre on the Merchant of Venice]
* [http://us.imdb.com/Find?select=Characters&for=Portia&Go.x=0&Go.y=0&Go=Go Internet Movie Database search on character name Portia]
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