Portia in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and Abigail of Marlowe's the Jew of Malta
Portia and Abigail are two characters with very different values. Portia in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice remained true to her religion, and her father’s wishes throughout the play. Abigail, on the other hand, changed religions and disobeyed her father. However, the writers used these two women to make similar statements about religion. Portia represented the quintessential Christian. Abigail of Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta, was more of an ethically ambiguous character, but it can still be argued that she was the most principled character in the play. Both Shakespeare and Marlowe used the daughter character to represent the ideal human being. In The Merchant of Venice the ideal human being is the perfect Christian. In The Jew of Malta the ideal is more of a Machiavellian that can still display some love and loyalty. Regardless of the principles Shakespeare and Marlowe wish to convey in their plays, they both chose young, females to express them.
Portia was defined by her obedience. She remained strictly obedient to the law and to her father’s wishes without ever wavering. She did complain a little but did not consider breaking either the rules of the law or her father. Portia first showed her law-abiding nature when she remained true to her father’s wishes despite her desire to do otherwise. In Portia’s first scene she is quite upset about the terms of her father’s will. “I may neither choose who I would, nor/ refuse who I dislike; so is the will of a living daughter/ curb’d be the will of a dead father. Is it not hard,/ Nerissa, that I cannot choose one, now refuse none?” (Merchant of Venice, I.ii.23-26). She goes on to list the vices of all her suitors. However, she ends the scene with a resolution; “If I live to be as old as Sibylla, I will die as/ chaste as Diana, unless I be obtain’d by the manner/ of my father’s will,” (Merchant of Venice, I.ii.106-108). Already Portia clearly puts her sense of duty ahead of her desires, as a good Christian should.
Later, in the trial scene, Portia again showed her love of the law, but attempted to use the law with mercy. She gave Shylock a choice as she judged the trial. She said he may choose either to be merciful to Antonio or the court would abide by the law- word for word. Shylock did not accept her offer because he felt that he was entitled to the justice of the law. Portia would never have broken the law, but she was able to find a way to use...