Portia and the Art of Justice
In Shakespeare controversial play, The Merchant of Venice, the character, Antonio calls this world "a stage where every man must play a part". He really cannot imagine that it will be a woman that will play the leading role on his "sad" stage. If not for a woman, Antonio would have found himself as a hunk of flesh in Shylock's trophy room. Portia, whose "little body is a-weary of this great world," uses her intelligence, quick thinking and fortitude to save the love of her own love. She also provides for the love of Jessica and Lorenzo, and let us not forget to mention her spiel on mercy and love at the onset of the trial. My question is why.
When we first meet Portia, one might be tempted to label her as an ordinary rich girl with the same problems that rich heiresses may have today--marriage, wealth and the combination of the two. Isn't she complaining to her maid of the woes of her father's wish? The wish that compelled her to marry the man who can choose the correct casket? Portia and Nerissa then go through the various options; might we say that Portia might be suffering from a severe case of capriciousness?
Let's look a little closer. She bemoans her various suitors because of lack of intelligence and bad habits. She sarcastically describes one as having "neighborly charity," because he borrows and never repays. It grabs my attention here and earlier that Portia focuses on the virtues of these men and the lack thereof. As we see more of her and hear what she has to say, we find that not only is Portia intelligent, but she understands the importance of mercy. She shrewdly learns, or has learned how to interrelate the two vital concepts in the realm of justice and...