One of the main characters of the play, Portia is a rich young heiress living on the fantasy type island of Belmont. With her lives Nerissa, her faithful servant and friend, who advises Portia on what she does as well as mimicking Portia’s relationship with Bassanio by herself romancing his closest servant, Gratiano. Everything Portia does in the play, she means to do, she makes no rash decisions, and very rarely is she surprised or tricked.
While she does usually think honourably before acting, she does sometimes play slightly cruel games with people, without such a malicious intent.
A good example of this is the episode with the ring, which Portia gives to her husband on the condition that it is a symbol of their love and if he looses it he looses her too. Later on in the play Portia, in the disguise of Doctor Bellario, convinces Bassanio to give her the ring as a fee for saving his best friend, Antonio’s, life.
On returning to Belmont, she confronts him asking him for the whereabouts of the ring and then threatens to sleep with the young doctor, who has the ring,
‘I had it of him; pardon me, Bassanio, for by this ring the doctor lay with me.’
However, when the question asks, ‘Would you agree her presentation makes her the most admirable character,’ it does not ask whether she is admirable in a good or a bad way. First we must define what the question means by ‘admirable’, in this case it is having qualities to excite or wonder the reader, or a character deserving the highest praise.
By going through the play and looking at Portia’s character presentation – her good and bad traits and features – and by comparing them with the other characters from the play, we can get an answer to the question, is she the play’s most admirable character.
Out of all the characters Portia is definitely the most strong willed, never willing to give up. One of the best examples of this is the court scene, where right up until the last minute she keeps working out new plans, trying to save Antonio.
‘Tarry a little, there is something else. This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood. The words expressly are ‘a pound of flesh.’
She is also versatile, able to adapt to different situations quite easily. This can include minor things such as the difference between politeness for the courtiers and actual excitement for Bassanio, or things like pretending to be a male lawyer. She accomplishes them all without difficulty, despite her lack of interaction in the world outside Belmont, which means it is probably due to her intelligent character and good upbringing. These roles she plays are usually either to deceive other characters in the play, or to assist them, or maybe both, and sometimes just for the adventure,
‘When we are both accoutred like young men
I’ll prove the prettier fellow of the two,
And wear my dagger with the braver grace,
And speak between the change of man and boy
With a reed voice, and turn two mincing steps
Into a manly stride; and speak of ‘frays’
Portia is quite deceptive; she lies quite a bit, yet she speaks her mind nearly all the time. With the exception of her natural politeness, Portia makes it clear to people how she feels about them. For example the on first meeting Antonio in the garden in the last scene, Portia welcomes him but makes it clear that she is slightly jealous of the love between him and her husband.
‘Sir, grieve not you ; you are welcome not withstanding.’
Being quite wealthy, Portia is naturally generous; offering any price for the release of Bassanio’s friend, weather out of the kindness of her heart or to stop her new husband leaving her so soon, we don’t know. Even thought Portia could afford this fee easily with her amount of money, her efforts to help Bassanio’s friend show her offers to be out of genuine love.
‘Pay him six thousand, and deface the bond. Double six thousand, and then treble that, before a friend of the description shall loose a hair through Bassanio’s fault.’
Her cruel side, shown in the last scene, is another sign of her intelligent character in a more negative way, however she is not as malicious as she appears to be. Having lived her entire life in Belmont surrounded by servants and aides, she is not used to the way the outside world works, and therefore did not understand how much pain she put Bassanio in, making him choose between his friendship with Antonio and his love for his wife.
‘But the full sum of me is sum of something : which to term in gross is an unlessoned girl, unschooled, unpractised.’
Bassanio and Portia have not that much in common, in fact a lot of the time they are act quite opposite to each other. Bassanio is quite forgiving, but Portia seems to always hold a grudge and remember past grievances. Compared with Jessica she is also quite different. Both women have lost virtually their entire family, and are haunted by their father’s attempts to control their lives, but still act quite differently, again Portia seeming the slightly more aggressive and nasty one.
Overall, in my opinion, Portia’s character presentation is not the most admirable of the play, for although she acts with the intention of good faith, she often ends up doing things in a sly and callous way that undermines her other polite, kind, and considerate type qualities. In my view Bassanio is the most admirable character by far, taking a neutral stance on most things, rarely making cruel remarks or actions against anyone, with the exception of Shylock in the court scene.