Portia: Orphan, Wife, and Widow in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice

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Dr. Mary Villeponteaux


William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice (1600), has been highly discussed by legal scholars and literary critics alike. In fact, the play’s trial scene has been cited in over eight-hundred United States Judicial decisions, and since been incorporated into eleven legal writing programs sponsored by the American Bar association. The trial also just so happens to be the longest scene of the play, which suggests that it is thematically important. The plot is ultimately resolved through a strict adherence to the law as it has been written, which has since been widely villainized as highlighting the need to interpret statutes mercifully. A majority of scholarship written about the legal aspects within the text discuss how the law should be interpreted, as well as the specific laws at play focusing mainly on mercantile law. However, this poster will discuss the possible influence the Court of Orphans has on the text, specifically in relation to an orphan within the text: Portia. Although the text is set in Venice, the court was found in response to the ongoing abuse of the orphan class in Shakespeare’s own London; and by the middle of the seventeenth century, the city filed for bankruptcy as a result of the crisis. Both a close rhetorical and contextual analysis reveals somewhat of a direct commentary on the phenomena. This Poster will also demonstrate Portia’s ability to manipulate and gain autonomy through the strict adherence to the law as written.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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