Portia and Bassanio: A complicated love affair?

The character of Portia in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, is one that is particularly interesting. She is described as being a beautiful and wealthy individual, characteristics that are commonly seen in the female characters of William Shakespeare’s pieces. Once of Portia’s most entertaining qualities seems to be her witty nature. This can be seen when Portia is engaged in conversation with her waiting-woman, Nerissa.
In the beginning of the play, Portia is describing the conditions in her father’s will which are controlling her decision to find a suitor. Portia describes her inability to choose a husband when she states: “I may neither choose who I would nor refuse who I dislike; so is the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead father” (1.2 20-22). According to her father’s will, in order for Portia to marry, the men must choose from three chests, each being made of gold, silver, or lead.  In only one of the chests lies a portrait of Portia. The man who choses the chest which includes the portrait is the individual who will be honored in marrying Portia. In order to pay respect to her father, Portia agrees to adhere to the condition of her late father’s will, despite the slightly frustrating and tiresome process that she must endure. 
When conversing with her waiting-woman, Nerissa, Portia is discussing the reasons why she will not marry a various amount of men. Portia provides several flaws that these men have, some being entirely shallow and humorous. These reasons include men who seem to be too consumed with themselves, men who are too serious and men who indulge in alcohol too frequently. Although the readers are given no reason to not believe Portia, it is fair to question if these reasons for not accepting the various suitors are entirely truthful, or if they are simply excuses made by Portia. 
Regardless, Portia is fearful that she will never find a respectable man to marry. It is then, when Nerissa suggests that Portia consider Bassanio to be one of her suitors. Bassanio is one of the only men who Portia considered to be a respectable candidate for marriage, which can be seen when she says “I remember him well, and I remember him worth of thy praise” (1.2 100-01). This line serves in great contrast to Portia’s reaction to the other men. 
At this point, it can be assumed that Portia is unaware of the fact that Bassanio is in the process of attempting to obtain a loan in order to woo Portia. Because of the wealthy status that the other suitors possess, Bassanio feels the need to borrow three thousand ducats in order to be considered as a suitor for Portia. In order to do this, he must obtain a loan from Shylock. The audience later learns that this agreement is more complicated than it first appears, as Shylock has a great hatred towards Antonio, whom is supporting the loan. This can be seen when Shylock says “I hate him for he is a Christian; But more, for that in low simplicity He lends out money gratis, and brings down the rate of usance her with us in Venice” (1.3 37-40). It is clear at this point in the play, that the relationship between Antonio and Shylock may have a great impact on Bassanio’s relationship with Portia. 

One thought on “Portia and Bassanio: A complicated love affair?

  1. Cyrus Mulready

    As we discussed in class, the network of association between these four characters is central to the play. Megan nicely anticipates that whatever happens to one of these characters will inevitably affect the other. Perhaps this interconnectedness (long word!) might be one of the points of the play? Can we really view ourselves as separate or different from others around us?


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