During Shakespeare’s time, daughters had very little control over their own lives. They were expected to follow the whims of their Father/spouse or be shunned by those closest to them and, in most cases, the rest of society. In The Merchant of Venice we get two female characters, Portia and Jessica, who are given orders by their fathers regarding their futures. Both of these characters seem to be on each end of the spectrum, yet they each appear to still get what they want.
The two women are similar in that they both at one point disguise as men. Portia does it to save spy on and help Antonio with his problem. Her intentions are mostly selfless as it is done for others. Jessica only does it to escape, which is a purely selfish reason. Both these women lack mother figures, which actually appears to be a general ‘lack’ among a good amount of Shakespeare’s plays.
Throughout the play, it is clear that Portia is generally an obedient character. She follows her fathers request that her future husband be chosen through a test rather than herself. Despite him being in his deathbed she still goes along with it. Showing that she is a dutiful daughter. She goes by the rules of her father and her society, and appears to see that as her only option. Jessica on the other hand completely disobeys and betrays her father. She runs away to marry Lorenzo (a christian), Steals her father’s money as well as her mothers wedding ring. She thoughtlessly spends 1000 ducats in one shot and trades the wedding ring for a monkey, she also converts to christianity. She has no respect for her father and seems to hate him. She betrays her father in every way possible (stealing/running/converting), and though typically the consequences to these types of actions would be harsh, i believe that it is due to the fact that it all directly harms Shylock, that she is let off the hook.