Point out the similarities between Portia and Jessica in the play The Merchant Of Venice by William Shakespeare
In William Shakespeare’s play ‘The Merchant of Venice’ the two most important women characters Portia and Jessica share some unmistakable similarities.
While the main plot of the play goes along the dispute between Shylock and Antonio after Antonio borrowed the money from his Jewish counterpart to help his friend Bassanio, female characters like Portia and Jessica help in constructing the sub-plots and also supporting the main story-line.
These two women characters have been more or less the victims of the possessive and conservative mindset of their respective fathers. Portia’s fate was to be decided by the casket her father left before his death. Portia therefore laments “so is the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead father” (Act I, Sc ii). Again, Shylock tried to rigidly manage everything he got including his daughter Jessica. In his eye, being a Jew and loving a Christian was a crime. That is why, Jessica had to elope with her lover Lorenzo.
Shylock was in his mood throughout the play except twice. He was outwitted only twice, that too by women. And those two were Portia and Jessica. In the court room in trial scene, Portia managed to upset him and his bond by her logic. Again, Jessica loved and even eloped with a Christian whom Shylock has hated all his life, giving him the real shock.
Portia and Jessica both had to disguise in men’s apparel. That gives a hint at the social position of women in Shakespeare’s society. Portia had to disguise herself to get the entry to the court room to take part in the arguments, while Jessica had to do the same to make sure nobody could identify her when she was eloping with Lorenzo.
Portia and Jessica, both were very positive and self-reliant characters and both were successful in marrying the man they loved. It feels like a poetic justice that they got what they wanted and deserved too.
Both the characters were successful in securing the respect and approval of the readers in their own merit, not only in Shakespeare’s time but also today. Both the characters were able to take decisions, were intelligent and confident. That is how they made themselves role models for the women audience, at least in Shakespeare’s time.