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Merchant of Venice, I1v

Editorial note

[My textual edits play with framing defiant gender roles and romantic reversal. Split into two frames, the portion of dialog featuring Gratiano speaking with Portia and Nerissa (who are dressed as lawyers) display strikethroughs across Portia’s verbal commands, adverbs, and any nouns that attempt to “pull her” into socialized conditioning. Leaning into a role defined by law and logic, she is direct and undeniably present—aromantic because she needs to be.

In contrast, the second frame situates Jessica and Lorenzo’s portions of dialog between colors of romantic desire ( for example, the moon and nighttime playing a timeless intimate landscape) and colors of exciting romantic trepidation (for example, in comparisons to mythological storytelling).

The decision to bridge these two distinct readings from one section of the play is an intent to converse with Cotherine Belsey’s “Disrupting Sexual Difference.”1

So, my readings grapple with the question of fixed meaning: is “the definitive” Portia’s male engendering in the name of purpose, or is it how this reflects on Jessica’s opportunity to “borrow” her meaning of femininity from powerful female figures? Similarly, is Portia (“he”) privileged, or is Jessica (“she”) privileged, simply based on bodily proximity to intimacy? ] 2

[The comicall Historie of

Enter Gratiano.
Grati. Faire sir, you are well ore-tane:
My L. Bassanio vpon more aduice,
hath sent you heere this ring, and doth intreate
your company at dinner.
Por. That cannot 3be;
his ring I doe accept most thankfully,
and so I pray you tell him: furthermore,
I pray you shew my youth old Shylockes house.
Gra. That will I doe.
Ner. Sir, I would speake with you:
Ile see if I can get my husbands ring
which I did make him sweare to keepe for euer.
Por. Thou maist I warrant, we shal haue old swearing
that they did giue the rings away to men;
but wele out-face them, and out-sweare them to:
away, make hast, thou knowst where I will tarry.
Ner. Come good sir, will you shew me to this house.
Enter Lorenzo and Iessica.
Lor. The moone shines bright. In such a night as this,
when the sweet winde did gently kisse the trees,
and they did make no noyse, in such a night
Troylus me thinks mounted the Troian walls,
and sigh'd his soule toward the Grecian tents
where Cressed lay that night.
Iessi. In such a night
did Thisbie fearefully ore-trip the dewe,
and saw the Lyons shadow ere him selfe,
and ranne dismayed away.
Loren. In such a night
stoode Dido with a willow in her hand
vpon the wilde sea banks, and waft her Loue
to come againe to Carthage.
Iessi. In such a night
Medea gathered the inchanted hearbs
that did renew old Eson.
Loren. In such a night]

Image credit: Rare Books & Manuscripts Department, Boston Public Library, copy G.176.16. The most excellent historie of the merchant of Venice. First Quarto. London: 1600.

Citing this page: Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice, I1v. London: 1600. Cacodemon Digital Shakespeare. Edited by [Brittany Warren]. Source edition: Rare Books & Manuscripts Department, Boston Public Library (copy G.176.16).


  1. Cotherine Belsey argues that “In conjunction with the common-sense belief that language is a nomenclature, a set of labels for what is irrevocably and inevitably there—whether in the world or in our heads—this process of fixing meaning provides us with a series of polarities which define what is. [. . .] In . . . oppositions . . . one term is always privileged, and one is always other, always what is not the thing itself” (179).
  2. Belsey, Cotherine. "Chapter 8: Disrupting Sexual Difference: Meaning and Gender in the Comedies." Alternative Shakespeares, edited by John Drakakis, PDF, Routledge, 2003, pp. 169-193.
  3. the diagonally positioned alliteration of “company” and “cannot,” paired with the merely disyllabic direction of Portia’s “cannot” response, may suggest upon first look an assigned uncertainty of her role here; however, on the contrary, this disyllabic motion is authoritative, indicating all the power availed to Portia while strategizing her plan.