Merchant of Venice Review

The cross-dressing scenes that appear in Merchant of Venice are essential to the story because it helps not only complicate but resolve problems with the plot of the story. In this play, Shakespeare questions how masculinity is counterfeited and performed by including the cross-dressing scenes and showing the effects of the bonds of love and friendship, while also making a statement about how women are able to intervene in their own lives.

During Act II, Scene Six Jessica cross-dresses so that she is able to run off with her lover, Lorenzo. This act in its entirety shows how the bond between Jessica and the “real” man seems to be less genuine and more sexual than the relationships between actual men because what truly brought them two together was her beauty. Looking at the relationship between Bassanio and Antonio. In Act 4, Scene 1, Bassanio is willing to give up his life for Antonio. While Bassanio is eager to give up everything he loves and worked for in order to save Antonina from Shylock’s blade he did not think twice about his wife’s well-being and was willing to end everything for Antonio which is a perfect example about how during Shakespearian times true masculinity will come before femininity.

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I believe that Portia successfully shows not only how masculinity is counterfeited and performed, but also how women were able to intervene in their own lives. Throughout the play, it is very clear how Portia is aware of legal language and practices. However, since she is a female she is not eligible to put that practice into action. Therefore, by transforming into a male she is able to put her intelligence into action while also controlling her fate. Portia’s cross-dressing scenes are important because they help to debunk the false claims of the female being weak and powerless. In Act III, Scene 4, Lines 70-75 Portia makes the statement “Like a fine bragging youth and tell quaint lies… and twenty of these puny lies I’ll tell” Portia portrays that masculinity is a form of immaturity and lies by making this statement.

While discussing with Nerissa the plan about cross-dressing Portia makes an important statement saying, a “thousand raw tricks of these bragging Jacks” (3.4.77). To me, this shows how she believes that the dominance of a male figure can be successfully imitated, which she successfully does in Act IV. Portia helps free Antonia disguised as Balthasar by engaging in the practice of law in a courtroom that is dominated by man. During all of Act IV Shakespeare made Portia’s character dominate by having her control the drama and also being able to manipulate the courtroom scene to her advantage. Not only does Portia show dominance, she also helps other women, like Nerissa, change the typical roles that society defines them as and helps it play a part into her own life by having her test their fiancés loyalty by manipulating them into separating from their rings.

Overall, Shakespeare does a good job at implementing the cross-dressing scenes and questioning masculinity, while also showing the effects that it has on the bonds of love and friendship, as well as how women were able to take it to their own advantage and intervene in their own lives.

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