Two women, Portia and Nerissa, dress as men and play the lawyer and the clerk, and save their husbands. Oh, the masques we wear.
The Merchant of Venice dabbles in Shakespeare’s controversial stance on Semitism, teetering on that fine line of wide-eyed shock for the post-Holocaust audience, and acknowledgment of an Elizebethan world where Jews were considered alien and usurer. Bassanio challenges the nature of loyalty – who is more important to him, his wife or his friend Antonio (bros before hos?)? The bonds of marriage are strained, the rings given to the faux judge and clerk (aka Portia and Nerissa in pants). Little does Bassanio realize that when he says “life itself, my wife, and all the world/are not with me esteemed above thy life,” he has just snubbed his wife while she stood by. An all knowing, albeit snarky, aside ensues.
Not just another male-dominated play, The Merchant of Venice proved to elevate intelligent women and marriage vows alike. One of my favourite moments? When Portia and Nerissa threaten to go and make the ‘lawyer’ and the ‘clerk’ their ‘bedfellows.’ Now that is leaping into a whole other pool of sexual psychoanalysis.
P.S. ‘Portia’ has definitely been added to my list of baby names for girls.