Merchant of Venice

Who is the Protagonist of the play Merchant of Venice?

The identification of the protagonist in Merchant of Venice indeed presents certain ambiguity. The exercise if especially complicated by the fact that Antonio, who is the merchant of the title, can hardly be regarded as the main character so that the title is quite misleading. However, the analysis of the play themes and key actions can point out to the likeliest candidate.

My strong impression is that Portia is the character that connects three primary male characters: Antonio, Shylock, and Bassanio. In fact, several occasions of her engagement with these figures demonstrate her leading role in the play. For instance, she manages to win over Shylock when helping Antonio with his conflict with the antagonist. When confronting and outwitting Shylock by her accurate interpretation of the Venetian law, she uses very strong language thus solidifying her position as the protagonist.

Upon consenting to take part in the lottery to follow her father’s will and thus waiving her right to choose her own husband, she, however, mocks the competitors asserting her central position: “Whiles we shut the gate upon one wooer, another nocks at the door”.

Likewise, in the final action where the ring-play unfolds, it is Portia who gives weight to the metaphor of the ring by saying to Antonio in response to his willingness to make a sacrifice for his friend: “give him this [ring], … And bid him keep it better than the other”. By this gesture, she gives even stronger symbolism to the ring as love’s inclusiveness.

Hence, by connecting major male characters, triumphing against al of them, and using assertive language both in her poetry and legal interpretation, Portia solidifies her position as the protagonist of the play.

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