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Role Of Women In The Merchant Of Venice

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Elisa Vandersloot

on 12 June 2014

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Transcript of Role Of Women In The Merchant Of Venice

What is a Role Model?
The definition in the Oxford Dictionary is;
A person looked to by others as an example to be imitated.
Role of Women in the Play
In the merchant of Venice the role of woman is quite significant. Although we only meet three woman through out the play. Jessica, Nerissa, and Portia they all play big parts.
Portia, Jessica, and Nerissa are all very interesting characters from this time period. All three woman are all symbols of strength, Independence and intelligence for woman.

It's a Mans World,
James Brown
Are Women Good Role Models?
In Summary
Woman in the renaissance ;
- Regardless of having Queens in England, woman had no rights
- Inferior to men
- Main life goal was to please father, then husband, have sons
- Main task to run household
- Lower class worked with husbands
- Wealthy woman received education on religion
- Fear that educated woman would change society
- Expected to bring dowries to weddings
- Main objective was to get married

Historical Perspective
Some of the obvious facts about women during 1300-1500’s are that they had no individual freedom, married women belonged to their husband, and before they were married they were governed by their parents. Single women lived with another male family member or most likely joined a convent as they were not allowed to live on their own. The roles of women were narrowly cut to household work such as sowing, cooking and cleaning, and depending if they were poor they also worked in the farm alongside their husbands. The only legitimate job a woman could have was to become a nun and join the convent. Women were discouraged from learning the arts or sciences, and even though wealthy wives had the power to do so many were still subjected to housework. The book Merchant of Venice drastically shakes the reality of women during the time as Shakespeare makes women during the Italian Renaissance appear independent and outspoken, such as the beautiful Portia and the young Jessica.
Role Of Women In
The Merchant Of Venice

Just as men can be good role models women can be. Just as men are bad role models women can be. Whether someone is a good role model or not is a matter of opinion. Normally, someone we consider a good role model has the same or similar morals as we do. They also tend to have something admirable, perhaps a quality we lack in ourselves. Think of who you see as a good role model. What do they stand for? What have they accomplished? What qualities do you admire in them? Now think of someone you see as a bad role model and ask yourself the same questions. See the difference. The good role model probably shares similar morals to you; while the bad role model probably has the opposite.
Women Today in
- equal rights
- perusing own goals and wishes
- don’t always get married
- are educated

Most women during the time were given two choices as discussed earlier: the convent or Marriage. Either way money was given for whatever option, a dowry would be given to either the husband or the convent, but in the case of the death of the husband the money would be returned to the women. Poor families would often marry only one daughter and send the rest off to live at the convent where dowries were much less expensive. Often a husband would be around 30 while the lady would only be in her teens, so the age gap was immense but normal during the times. Breast feeding was thought to have been lower class, so wealthy women would send there babies out to wet nurses to feed the child. The only place women of all standards met was in church, and many women dressed in the same eloquent fashions and jewelery. Women in the convents made silver and gold thread to sell or work into artwork, while poor women sometimes would turn to prostitution or become a servant to make ends meet.

The ideal woman during the renaissance was quiet, obedient, and had a reasonable dowry from her family to be given away. A woman being outspoken and opinionated was rare and unwanted; often a woman with a voice was a woman without a husband. Women whom happened to have a voice often were heavily influenced by male counterparts and were of higher social class. This perspective seems to counteract Portia as although she is wealthy and beautiful, she is opinionated in the lottery by her father and uses her own intelligence when saving Antonio. Portia is an intellectual women whom father died when she was young, leaving her in the company with her friend Nerissa. When we see the women together we see their mischievous attitudes not only mock Portia suitors, but also connive to test their husbands.
Women’s art, literature and artifacts are limited from this era and the voice of women is shunned behind men’s forefront presence. The loss of the genius women hold and the beauty they possess will never be regained due to the age old sexist attitude that men are better than women. Portia is a representation of this loss as we see that not only is she intellectual, but she is the most highly educated in the court room as she solely saves Antonio’s life when Bassanio, Gratiano and even the Duke could not save Antonio. If she were to be allowed as a female into the court she would rule the room, and this loss of genius and the justice she is able to provide proves that women’s history is a meager one of oppression and obedience.
In conclusion, the role of women in the 1300-1500’s was very simplistic and narrow-minded. Women were a possession, a child bearer, a bride with a dowry and a nun, while men ruled as actors, musicians, teachers, scientists and so much more. This was a rich historical era, yet history seems to be missing a very important voice, and although women were minor they are the reason for the ancestry that runs deep in today’s culture. No man is born without a female, and back then no female was raised but by a man.
Who do you consider to be a good female role model?
What do you define as a good role model?
Do the Traits of a good role model differ between Men and Women?
Jessica shows this strength when she leaves home from her father with Lorenzo. Some may consider this to be running away, but it is a brave act none the less. She is also willing to convert religions upon marrying Lorenzo so she may be a respected Christian. For a woman to do this was rare. A woman was meant to please her father; Jessica leaves him and takes his fortune with her. Jessica has sense of self interest and maybe ambition. Jessica see’s a better future with the chances Lorenzo offers her and takes them.
Portia and Nerissa both dress up as men to save the lives of their husbands friends. Both women are clever enough to get Antonio off the hook with Shylock. These women are strong influences, Portia is quick tongued when around Nerissa and Nerissa is a loyal companion. Portia and Nerissa are key parts of the story because the are the heroes of the story. Regardless of gender.
It is rare to see woman from the era be portrayed with way because they were not thought of this way. This play shows that woman can be not only beautiful things to look at, but powerful and intelligent.
Quick Definition!
Defined by the Oxford dictionary as;
A Christian community of nuns living together under monastic vows
The song we picked its it’s a mans world. We picked this song because it is relevant to the story. The songs says, even though man did all these things in life (Made the train, cars, electric light) they still need women. This shows not only the men’s role in society, the pressure to provide for his family, but the women’s role to. Even when this song was released, you still get the idea that women were unappreciated.
This is relevant to the play because although Antonio and Bassanio can get to Venice, they still need Portia to save them. As a woman she would not have been allowed in the court room, but if it wasn’t for Portia Antonio wouldn’t be free. This directly relates to the line “This is a mans world (woman not allowed in court) but it wouldn’t be nothing without a woman or a girl.”

Quick Definition!
Is defined by the Oxford dictionary as;
A strong desire to do or achieve something
“Pay him six thousand, and deface the bond:
Double six thousand, and then treble that,
Before a friend of this description
Shall lose a hair through Bassanio’s fault.” (149)

Portia is the speaker of this line and plays a major role as a female role model in the play. Portia speaks this line in Act III, Scene II, after hearing that Bassanio’s dear friend Antonio is paying the price for failing to pay the debt for the 3000 ducats Bassanio borrowed and that Antonio’s life is on the line. Portia tells Bassanio in this Scene how money will not be a problem to save Antonio and to leave at once to save him. Portia is a model for following morals, unlike many characters she does not fret about money or gives into greed but believes that they must do whatever they can to save Antonio. She selflessly gives, yet does not stop there, as she follows Bassanio to Verona later in the play and frees Antonio on her own wit. At the time there were no women in court so her actions were a dangerous opposition of norms, but if she had stayed and waited for her husband Antonio would have been dead. Portia is a much more relatable character to women now, as we can follow her bravely without distaste or prejudice.
“But though I am a daughter to his blood,
I am not in his manners. O Lorenzo,
If thou keep promise, I shall end this strife,
Become a Christian, and thy loving wife.” (73)

Act II, Scene III is an interesting short snippet on Jessica, the daughter of Shylock, as we see that she has a love interest whom is Bassanio’s friend, Lorenzo. In the scene, Launcelot is leaving Shylock’s estate to go work for Bassanio instead, and Jessica uses the opportunity to ask him to send a message to her lover. Shakespeare jumbles around women’s roles during that era, as few women would leave there family for love as it was a sin and disgrace of their honor. Jessica not only leaves her greedy father, but we soon realize how hypocritical these words are as she seems to follow Shylocks mannerisms in greed. Not only do we soon learn she will steal from her father but it is mentioned that she fool heatedly spends the money on luxuries. Jessica takes her life into her own hands, yet she seems to leave a vengeful scar on her father even after she has left her original home.
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