Shakespeare was a jester knowing how to play with his audience. As he had to entertain as well as adhere to social etiquette, he showed women in two different lights. Portia was shown as a young woman who was to become the property of her husband. She was already fed up with life because she had to find a husband or rather a husband had to find her because of a promise she had made on his father's death bed. "… I neither choose whom I would nor refuse whom dislike-so is the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead father" (Portia, I, ii) This was typical in Elizabethan England.
Shakespeare gives her a dual role as an intelligent ingenious woman who saves the day but in disguise. She acts as the lawyer who saves Antonio. She uses reverse psychology by saying that the contract between Shylock and Antonio was valid and he owed his pound of flesh but if Shylock intended "… .the estimation of a hair, Thou diest, and all thy goods are (Portia, IV, i ) "The law hath yet another hold on you… ..That by direct or indirect attempts he seek the life of any citizen, the party 'gainst the which he doth contrive shall seize one half his goods… .." (Portia, IV, i).
The importance of these two quotes shows the power Shakespeare gives to the intelligence of Portia and the fact she saves the day by proving that Shylock had no right to Antonio's flesh. Antonio becomes a richer man. As she becomes engaged with Bassanio, Nerissa asks Portia's permission marry as she is her lady in waiting.
"Yes, madam, it is, if it's all right with you. " (Nerissa, III, ii). Jessica is a controversial character as will be seen. As a Jew, an unhappy daughter, in love with a Christian and hating her father, she is in utter turmoil. Shakespeare doesn't really develop her character. Jessica is called "his pagan girlfriend " as she is Jewish. Jessica and Lorenzo elope. It is a mixed marriage which is never done, and she sells her father's sacred turquoise ring to money.
The three women are of three very different social classes.
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