The major characters in the comedy, “The Merchant of Venice” include Shylock, Portia, Antonio and Bassanio. Shylock happens to be one of the most noteworthy characters in Shakespeare’s oeuvre while Portia is also one of the most important among the diverse women characters portrayed in Shakespeare.
Shylock has been shown as the mocked figure of the Jewish stereotype with a fractured sense of values. But it is Shylocks very own values that have been turned around and put against him in this whole mocking trajectory of his character. Shylock has been made the antagonist not but almost oddly enough, placed against a very limiting back drop of people who are against him.
In the larger sense of term, Shylock is a multi-layered character who has just been playing the crooked because of being the underdog or the alienated one in the society where he is placed. He is a creation of the circumstances around him and the evils that has been played through his characters are not deep rooted but a way of safeguarding himself from the very society he has been thrown into. In that regard Shylock is as much misunderstood as has been the greater trajectory of Semitics who has remained misjudged in a largely Christian society.
Shylock’s actions and decisions have definitely derided the young gentlemen of Venice from their happiness.
The concern is more of Bassanio than that of the complying and generous friend Antonio.
Bassanio has been one extraordinary character who descends from noble lineage but is in no form to work for himself or make his own name. Instead he chooses to woo and win the heart of the multi-talented and wealthy Portia taking help from his friend, Antonio. Antonio helps his dear friend have the fulfillment of his heart’s desire and even risks his life in the process. Bassanio is the lucky fellow who gets everything and gets away with them either.
However it is more of his lady luck, Portia, who is the more intelligent of the men and works her way into saving Antonio back to life. With a woman of intense wit and charm as that of Portia, the reader is curiously left to ask why she would choose a man like Bassanio. But then with the play ending up merrily with the newly married couples and their friends, it is a well suited plot done in convenience as well as light manner. A woman of extreme wit and power would perhaps want a husband who would bring her peace of mind and sweet romance rather than driving extension of any added burden of ambition.
We definitely find a lack of that male drive present in Antonio or Bassanio. However, Portia, on a league of her own gracefully complies to all the laws and expectations of the society while wittily flouting each one of them in order to make them suit according to her own needs.
Her high level of wit and application of her resources make her more powerful than any man she could have picked up for herself. She is highly unconventional for the age she lives in and also gets to see the loopholes of society without the need to sacrifice her feminine grace in her own way.