DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH
GOVT. RAZVIA ISLAMIA COLLEGE
GOVT. RAZVIA ISLAMIA COLLEGE
Portia has been called by critics one of the most perfectly developed female characters of Shakespeare. S. A. Brooke has called her, “the queen of beauty”. Jessica calls her beautiful “past all expressing”. She possesses physical as well as the beauty of character. She is so beautiful that suitors come to woe her from distant lands like so many Jasons in search of Golden Fleece.
Cultured And Learned
Portia is one of the most prominent of Shakespeare's heroines in his mature romantic comedies. She is beautiful, gracious, rich, intelligent, and quick-witted. Born in rich, aristocratic family, she is noble, generous and large-hearted. She has been given the best of education by a wise father, and so is cultured and refined. She represents all that is sweetest and best in womanhood. She can quote with perfect ease from classical writers, and frequently alludes to classical mythology. With all her refinement and love of learning, she is a typical product of Renaissance.
Her Sense Of Humour
Her character is a clever blending of opposites. The gay and the serious, the feminine and the masculine, elements are skillfully mixed up in her character. The key-note of her character is her sprightly wit and humour and this trait is kept prominent throughout the play. Her wit and humour is first seen in her remarks to Nerissa about her various suitors. Her love of fun asserts itself even during the trial scene, and she cannot help joking with Bassanio, when he says that he will sacrifice even his wife to save his friend. She says: ‘Your wife will give you little thanks, for that, if she were by, to hear you make the offer.’
Her Intellectual Ability
Portia has great intellectual ability. She is shrewd judge of human nature. Her remarks to Nerissa about her six suitors reveal a keen intellect and a true understanding. She shows wisdom and resourcefulness in carrying out her plan of appearing in the court of Venice, disguised as a lawyer. She arranges all the necessary details with an almost masculine self-confidence and practical common sense.
Indeed, her intellectual ability has led critics, like Hazlitt, to accuse her of being unfeminine, masculine and pedantic. They point out that it is immodest and masculine on her part to appear in the court in man’s clothing. No woman in the world would act in this way. She is entirely lacking in maidenly modesty. However, all such criticism is unjustified. Her truly feminine nature is seen even in the trial scene. Only a true woman, with a deeply religious nature can make the famous “quality of mercy” speech. She remains faithful to the will of her father.
Her Passionate Love
Her womanly nature is best displayed by her love of Bassanio. Her love of him is deep and passionate, sincere and true. In the expression of her love she is self-restrained and modest as a maiden should be.
She is self surrendering and humble in her love. When Bassanio has made the right choice, she surrenders herself completely to his direction and calls Bassanio her lord and master. She places her own self and all that belongs to her, at the disposal of her husband.
Her Poetic Imagination
Another quality to note about her is her poetic imagination. This is best seen in her speech at the time when Bassanio proceeds to make her choice. She compares him to Hercules, Nerissa and others to the weeping Trojan women, and herself to the ‘Virgin tribute’ whom Hercules had saved from the sea monster. She has artistic taste. She loves music and has her own band of musicians.
Comparison With Shylock
Critics liked to compare Portia with Shylock, and the comparison brings out the salient traits of her character. One of them has said that while ‘Portia is the beauty of the play, Shylock is its strength’. She stands for everything bright, generous and noble, while Shylock is dark, evil and mischief-making. She represents the forces of good, while he stands for those of wickedness.