Vikki Pham on The Merchant of Venice, Act 5

Published by admin_main on Mon 13 Sep, 2010

18. In Act 5, Scene 1, what allows for resolution of the controversy over the loss of Bassanio and Gratiano's rings, given them by Portia and Nerissa, respectively? How do the two women assert a kind of power that the men didn't know they possessed?

Antonio feels very guilty for being the reason Bassanio and Gratiano gave up their rings as a thank you gift for his life. He then turns to Portia and Nerissa declaring his faith in his friends for never breaking their vows again by saying "I dare be bound again, My soul upon the forfeit, that your lord/ Will never more break faith advisedly." (line 251- 253). Portia then gives Antonio the ring (and Nerissa gave her ring also) in response to Antonio's words. All of the other characters are very surprised and confused from the appearance of the rings again. Portia and Nerissa attempts to create more tension by claiming she and Nerissa had slept with the Legal Expert and the lawyer's clerk and received these rings as tokens for their sexual promiscuity with the men. The ring is a representation of the marriage as well as the oath of loyalty between the couple. The circular shape of the ring is an infinite bond two people have with each other. Portia and Nerissa's story about sleeping with other men breaks the rule about "married chastity". The ring also symbolizes a sexual bond , the two women should only have intercourse with the men they gave the rings to. The ring is a sacred object with very deep meanings connected to its existence, Portia says to Bassanio, "If you had pleased to have defended it/ with any terms of zeal, wanted the modesty/ to urge the thing held as a ceremony?" lines 203- 205. Portia is disturbed by how easily Bassanio gave away the ring. He was not aware of how sacred the ring was for their relationship.

Within seconds of falsely justifying the reason for the rings, Portia gives Bassanio a letter explaining the whole plan about Portia and Nerissa going into the city pretending as men in order to help Antonio. The two women wanted the men to know the strongest power they had exists through love (which is represented by the rings). The men had to prove their commitment with these women by keeping their symbols of love close to them as a constant reminder of their bond. The women are not happy because the two men gave up the ring so easily, they did not see the importance of the rings. In Act 5 Scene 1 Portia says "You {Gratiano} were to blame, I must be plain with you, to part so slightly with your wife's first gift, a thing stuck on with oaths upon your finger, and so riveted with faith unto your flesh" (line 163—165). Portia and Nerissa have power over the men because they refuse to have sexual intercourse with their husbands. In Act 5.1 Portia said "By heaven, I will ne'er come in your bed until I see the ring" (line 183) because the ring represented their marriage and their oath for each other. Bassanio and Gratiano still might not have learned the importance of the ring because they still believe the ring is of physical importance to their wives rather than the deeper meaning of bonds and oaths.


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