The Merchant of Venice

Portia Character Analysis

Read our modern English translation.
A beautiful, clever, and wealthy noblewoman who lives in the country estate of Belmont, outside Venice. Portia is bound by a clause in her father's will, which obligates her to marry whoever solves the so-called riddle of the caskets, by choosing the correct chest from one of gold, one of silver, and one of lead. After despairing over a parade of suitors whom she finds distasteful, Portia does get to marry her true love, Bassanio, who happily makes the correct choice. She also saves Antonio's life, during his trial with Shylock, dressed up as a lawyer named Balthazar. For centuries, Portia was admired as an ideal of feminine virtue. However, many modern critics have pointed out that Portia, though seemingly a genius and a perfect wife, regularly displays a vicious prejudice toward non-Christians and foreigners.

Portia Quotes in The Merchant of Venice

The The Merchant of Venice quotes below are all either spoken by Portia or refer to Portia. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of The Merchant of Venice published in 2009.
Act 1, scene 2 Quotes
When he is best, he is a little worse than a man; and when he is worst, he is little better than a beast.
Related Characters: Portia (speaker)
Page Number: 1.2.88-89
Explanation and Analysis:

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I dote on his very absence.
Related Characters: Portia (speaker), Bassanio
Page Number: 1.2.300
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 2, scene 1 Quotes
Mislike me not for my complexion,
The shadow'd livery of the burnish'd sun.
Related Characters: Prince of Morocco (speaker), Portia
Page Number: 2.1.1-2
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 3, scene 2 Quotes
If he lose, he makes a swan-like end,
Fading in music.
Related Characters: Portia (speaker), Bassanio
Page Number: 3.2.46-47
Explanation and Analysis:

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Tell me where is fancy bred,
Or in the heart or in the head?
How begot, how nourished?
Reply, reply.
It is engender'd in the eyes,
With gazing fed; and fancy dies
In the cradle, where it lies.
Let us all ring fancy's knell;
I'll begin it – Ding, dong, bell.
Related Characters: Portia (speaker)
Page Number: 3.2.65-73
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 4, scene 1 Quotes
I never knew so young a body with so old a head.
Related Characters: Duke of Venice (speaker), Portia
Page Number: 4.1.164-165
Explanation and Analysis:

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Which is the merchant here, and which the Jew?
Related Characters: Portia (speaker), Shylock, Antonio
Page Number: 4.1.176
Explanation and Analysis:

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The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
'T is mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's,
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.
Related Characters: Portia (speaker), Shylock
Page Number: 4.1.190-208
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 5, scene 1 Quotes
We will answer all things faithfully.
Related Characters: Portia (speaker)
Page Number: 5.1.321
Explanation and Analysis:

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Portia Character Timeline in The Merchant of Venice

The timeline below shows where the character Portia appears in The Merchant of Venice. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, scene 1
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
...Gratiano's insensitivity and reveals why he's come to see Antonio. He is in love with Portia, a wealthy noblewoman, and hopes to seek her hand in marriage. However, he lacks the... (full context)
Act 1, scene 2
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
Reading and Interpretation Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
At her estate in Belmont, near Venice, Portia complains to her servant Nerissa that she's "aweary of this great world" (1.2.1–2). Nerissa observes... (full context)
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Portia replies that in fact she's frustrated by her total lack of control over her romantic... (full context)
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon
Human and Animal Theme Icon
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Nerissa asks what Portia thinks of the foreign princes who have come to woo her so far. Nerissa lists... (full context)
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Nerissa asks Portia whether she remembers a Venetian man who once came—Bassanio. Portia does, fondly. Just then, a... (full context)
Act 2, scene 1
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon
Human and Animal Theme Icon
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
At Belmont, the Prince of Morocco has arrived to seek Portia's hand in marriage. He begs her not to dislike him just because of his dark... (full context)
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Reading and Interpretation Theme Icon
Portia reminds Morocco that what she wants is irrelevant. The riddle of the caskets, devised by... (full context)
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Reading and Interpretation Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Morocco rejoices, and asks Portia to bring him to the caskets so he might try his fortune. Portia reminds him... (full context)
Act 2, scene 7
Reading and Interpretation Theme Icon
At Belmont, Portia shows the Prince of Morocco the three caskets. The first is gold and bears the... (full context)
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
Reading and Interpretation Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
..."what many men desire." After hesitating a moment longer, Morocco settles on the gold casket. Portia hands him the key and tells him that if her picture lies inside, she will... (full context)
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Devastated, Morocco leaves. After he is gone, Portia snidely remarks that she hopes that "all of his complexion choose [...] so" (2.7.79). (full context)
Act 2, scene 8
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon
Human and Animal Theme Icon
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
...and Solanio gossip about Jessica and Lorenzo's elopement and Bassanio's departure for Belmont to woo Portia. They laugh about Shylock's desperate search for Jessica. Upon learning that Jessica had eloped and... (full context)
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
...worry about the money he had borrowed, but only to think of his courtship of Portia. Solanio remarks that Antonio "only loves the world for" Bassanio (2.8.50). They set off to... (full context)
Act 2, scene 9
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Reading and Interpretation Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
...Aragon has arrived at Belmont to try his hand at the riddle of the caskets. Portia tells the Prince the rules of the riddle: if he chooses the casket that contains... (full context)
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
Reading and Interpretation Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Portia gives it to him. But when Aragon unlocks the casket, inside he finds a "portrait... (full context)
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
As Portia and Nerissa draw a curtain in front of the caskets, a messenger enters with the... (full context)
Act 3, scene 2
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
In Belmont, Portia begs Bassanio to delay before making his choice among the caskets. If he chooses incorrectly,... (full context)
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
Reading and Interpretation Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Portia instructs that music should be played so that, if Bassanio chooses incorrectly, he will at... (full context)
Human and Animal Theme Icon
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
Reading and Interpretation Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Bassanio opens the lead casket. Inside, he finds a painting of Portia and a poem praising the wisdom of his choice. Bassanio turns to Portia, insisting that... (full context)
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Lorenzo and Jessica enter with Salerio. Bassanio and Portia welcome them. Salerio explains that he is carrying a letter from Antonio for Bassanio. Gratiano... (full context)
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon
Human and Animal Theme Icon
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Bassanio gets increasingly upset as he reads the letter. He tells Portia about the money he allowed Antonio to borrow from Shylock and of Antonio's lost ships.... (full context)
Human and Animal Theme Icon
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
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Portia asks Bassanio whether Antonio is a dear friend. When Bassanio affirms that he is, Portia... (full context)
Act 3, scene 4
Human and Animal Theme Icon
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Back at Belmont, after Bassanio's hasty departure, Lorenzo and Portia are chatting. Lorenzo reassures Portia that if she knew what a "true gentleman" (3.4.6) Antonio... (full context)
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Portia then asks Lorenzo whether he and Jessica will manage her estate, as she has vowed... (full context)
Act 3, scene 5
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon
Human and Animal Theme Icon
Lorenzo asks Jessica what she thinks of Portia. Jessica replies that she finds Portia more perfect than she can express, and compares her... (full context)
Act 4, scene 1
Human and Animal Theme Icon
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
The Duke announces that he has asked a wise lawyer, Doctor Bellario, to come and help judge the case. Salerio reports that a messenger has come bearing... (full context)
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon
Human and Animal Theme Icon
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Nerissa enters, disguised as a lawyer's clerk. She presents a letter to the Duke from Bellario. Meanwhile, Shylock wets his knife in anticipation of a verdict in his favor and Gratiano... (full context)
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon
Human and Animal Theme Icon
Reading and Interpretation Theme Icon
The Duke reports that Bellario has recommended that the court hear the opinion of a young and learned lawyer, named... (full context)
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Reading and Interpretation Theme Icon
Portia tells Shylock that Venetian law is indeed on his side. Therefore, she begs him to... (full context)
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Reading and Interpretation Theme Icon
Portia asks if Antonio has the money to repay Shylock. Bassanio responds that he has offered... (full context)
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Portia states that Shylock is entitled to take a pound of flesh nearest Antonio's heart. She... (full context)
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Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
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Portia asks Antonio for any last words. Antonio tells Bassanio not to grieve, to send his... (full context)
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
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But just as Shylock is about to cut into Antonio, Portia reminds Shylock that the contract doesn't grant him any drop of blood from Antonio's body:... (full context)
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
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...decides to take Bassanio's prior offer of 9000 ducats. Bassanio is ready to accept, but Portia stops him. She says: Shylock wanted justice and he will have it. Shylock must take... (full context)
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon
Human and Animal Theme Icon
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...must give half of his wealth to Antonio and half to the state of Venice. Portia then asks Antonio to weigh in. Antonio says that the state should renounce its claim... (full context)
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When the Duke accepts these conditions, Portia mockingly demands: "Are you contended, Jew?" Shylock concedes that he is. Portia tells the clerk... (full context)
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
The Duke asks Portia, still disguised as Balthazar, to dinner. She declines on the grounds that she must get... (full context)
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
After Portia and Nerissa exit, Antonio tells Bassanio that he should value Balthazar's efforts to save Antonio's... (full context)
Act 4, scene 2
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Portia, still dressed as "Balthazar," instructs Nerissa, still dressed as the pageboy, to go to Shylock's... (full context)
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Gratiano enters, carrying the ring from Bassanio. He tells Portia that Bassanio has sent the ring and asks him to join them at Antonio's house... (full context)
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
In an aside, Nerissa tells Portia that she will try to trick her husband into giving her his ring. Amused, Portia... (full context)
Act 5, scene 1
Human and Animal Theme Icon
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
A messenger enters with news that Portia will be back before daybreak from the monastery. He asks to know whether Bassanio has... (full context)
Human and Animal Theme Icon
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Reading and Interpretation Theme Icon
Portia and Nerissa approach Belmont, and Portia admires the candlelit beauty of the estate, saying: "How... (full context)
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
Reading and Interpretation Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
At that moment, Bassanio, Antonio, and Gratiano enter. Portia welcomes Bassanio home; Bassanio introduces Antonio and asks her to "give welcome" to the friend... (full context)
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
Reading and Interpretation Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
...missing ring. Gratiano swears to Nerissa that he gave the ring to a judge's clerk. Portia asks what's wrong. Gratiano replies that his wife is overreacting. Nerissa insists that it is... (full context)
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
Reading and Interpretation Theme Icon
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Bassanio admits it is true. Portia pretends to be furious. She swears that she will never go to bed with Bassanio... (full context)
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Portia accepts the deal. She hands Antonio the ring, which she pretends is a different ring,... (full context)
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
Portia also has a letter for Antonio with even better news: three of his ships have... (full context)
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Finally Portia encourages everyone to go into the house to hear the full explanation of all these... (full context)