Humanities › Literature Portia - Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice' Share Flipboard Email Print 19th Century Engraving of The Merchant of Venice. Getty Images/Andrew Howe) Literature Shakespeare Comedies Shakespeare's Life and World Studying Tragedies Sonnets Best Sellers Classic Literature Plays & Drama Poetry Quotations Short Stories Children's Books By Lee Jamieson Theater Expert M.A., Theater Studies, Warwick University B.A., Drama and English, DeMontfort University Lee Jamieson, M.A., is a theater scholar and educator. He previously served as a theater studies lecturer at Stratford-upon Avon College in the United Kingdom. our editorial process Lee Jamieson Updated March 04, 2019 Portia in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice is one of the Bard's most beloved characters. The Love Test Portia's fate is determined by the love test her father gives to her suitors. She is unable to choose her own suitor but is forced to marry whoever passes. She has wealth but has no control over her own destiny. When Bassanio passes the test, Portia immediately agrees to divest all her riches, property, and power over to him in order to be his loving and dutiful wife. She is passed from one man’s control—her father’s—to another—her husband’s: "As from her lord, her governor, her king.Myself and what is mine to you and yoursIs now converted: but now I was the lordOf this fair mansion, master of my servants,Queen o'er myself. And even now, but now,This house, these servants and this same myselfAre yours, my lord’s" (Act 3 Scene 2, 170-176). One wonders what is in it for her... other than companionship and, hopefully, love? Let’s hope that her father’s test really is foolproof, in that the suitor is proven to love her through his choice. As an audience, we know the lengths to which Bassanio has gone to win her hand, so this gives us hope that Portia will be happy with Bassanio. "Her name is Portia, nothing undervaluedTo Cato’s daughter, Brutus’ Portia.Nor is the wide world ignorant of her worth,For the four winds blow in from every coastRenowned suitors, and her sunny locksHang on her temples like a golden fleece,Which makes her seat of Belmont Colchis’ strand,And many Jasons come in quest of her" (Act 1 Scene 1, 165-172). Let’s hope Bassanio is not just after her money but, in choosing the lead casket, we are to assume he is not. Character Revealed We later discover Portia’s true grit, resourcefulness, intelligence, and wit through her dealings with Shylock in court, and many a modern audience might lament her fate at having to go back to court and be the dutiful wife she promised to be. It is also a pity that her father did not see her true potential in this way and, in doing so, he may not have determined his ‘love test’ necessary but trusted his daughter to make the right choice off her own back. Portia ensures that Bassanio is made aware of her alter ego; in disguise as the judge, she makes him give her the ring that she has given him. In doing so, she can prove that it was she posing as the judge and that it was she who was able to save his friend’s life and, to and extent, Bassanio's life and reputation. Her position of power and substance in that relationship is therefore established. This sets a precedent for their life together and allows the audience some comfort in thinking that she will maintain some power in that relationship. Shakespeare and Gender Portia is the heroine of the piece when all the men in the play have failed, financially, by the law, and by their own vengeful behavior. She swoops in and saves everyone from themselves. However, she is only able to do this by dressing up as a man. As Portia’s journey demonstrates, Shakespeare recognizes the intellect and abilities that women have but concedes that they can only be demonstrated when on a level playing field with men. Many of Shakespeare’s women show their wit and cunning when they are disguised as men. Rosalind as Ganymede in As You Like It is another example. As a woman, Portia is submissive and obedient; as the judge and as a man, she demonstrates her intelligence and her brilliance. She is the same person but is empowered by dressing as a man and, in doing so, she hopefully gains the respect and equal footing she deserves in her relationship: "If you had known the virtue of the ring,Or half her worthiness that gave that ring,Or your own honour to contain the ring,You would not then have parted with the ring" (Act 5 Scene 1, 199-202).