Essay about The Power of Words in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice
The written word extends an inordinate influence over the events of the play and the actions—or inaction—of its characters. In his will, Portia’s father entrusts Portia’s conjugal happiness to the fortuitous outcome of a game, so that she herself “cannot choose one, nor refuse none” (I.ii.26). In this way, Portia’s right of choice is transferred to a series of strangers. And yet, although she laments this loss of free will, she vows, “If I live to be as old as Sibylla, I will die as chaste as Diana, unless I be obtained by the manner of my father’s will” (I.ii.106-108). While admittedly the scene also satires the various nationalities of her suitors, essentially the hallowed sacrament of marriage has deteriorated into a tragic circumstance of constraint.
But when this first predicament resolves itself happily, it is again a written document that prevents the characters’ full indulgence in celebration. Bassanio having rightfully won Portia’s hand in marriage, and Gratiano having sworn “oaths of love” (III.ii.209) to Nerissa, the couples receive a letter from the incarcerated Antonio. The presence of all three of the play’s romantic pairings during this scene, including the newly engaged Jessica and Lorenzo, is significant; it accentuates the dramatic change