Monday, May 21, 2007

RE: Merchant of Venice - Portia and Prejudice


I don't think I like Portia any more. Maybe Gil's final installment – "Portia and Power" – will resurrect my faith in her, but his previous two posts have all but put out that light. Both "Portia and the Caskets" and "Portia and Prejudice," combined with Ernst's comment on Merchant's "sickeningly prejudiced world" have left me with the impression that this is an extremely cynical play.

I preferred to read Bassanio's casket choice speech rather naively; you know, "look past my outward surface, for I, like the lead box, am more than ornament." That kind of stuff. But Gil's reading renders him spectacularly hypocritical.

And Gil's readings of Portia are awesome – especially that little observation about "I stand for sacrifice" and the song rhyming with "lead." Throw in a little farce and this could be one of the funniest scenes in the play, but to do so would completely reduce Portia to dishonesty. Maybe that's appropriate, given her assessment of the characters that Gil noted. I had said that Portia could be one of the most prejudiced characters in the play. Lo, and behold.

Finally, the "quality of mercy" speech, which I have really found to be powerful, takes a major hit in this reading, and also seems cynical in this light. Is there no where to turn in Merchant for goodness?

I realize this is not the only way to read the play, but Portia seems less fairy princess now than the evil witch princess from something like "King Stork." If Bassanio's not careful, he'll find his head on a pike. Now, where did he leave his ring … ?


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