‘To what extent are women shackled by patriarchy in Shakespeare’s plays?’ (65%, 2008)


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‘In The Merchant of Venice, Portia laments the fact that “the will of a living daughter [is] curbed by the will of a dead father.” To what extent are women shackled by patriarchy in Shakespeare’s plays?’

{Essay CONTENTS: Introduction; Twelfth Night as two-‘move’ play; Initial situation of both Twelfth Night ‘moves’; Sebastian and Viola’s quest for employment; Narratological unfolding of Sebastian and Viola’s fates; Viola’s dialogue with Captain, plan to serve Orsino; Viola accepted into Orsino’s service; Viola begins courting Olivia on Orsino’s behalf; Olivia as villain of first ‘move’; Sebastian’s dialogue with Antonio; Malvolio ‘returns’ Viola’s ring; Viola aims to return to Orsino’s court; ‘Duel’ between Viola and Sir Andrew Aguecheek; Mistaken identity: Antonio intervenes on Viola’s behalf…Antonio is arrested; Mistaken identity: Olivia intervenes on Sebastian’s behalf; Olivia initiates marriage with Sebastian; Resolution of mistaken identity theme…Olivia offers to host and pay for Viola and Orsino’s wedding; Second ‘move’ in Twelfth Night ~ Malvolio as villain; Maria’s heroic quest begins; Maria tricks Malvolio; Malvolio is punished; Common reward for Viola, Sebastian, and Maria’s heroic quests; Emrys Jones’ ‘two-part structure’ concept; The Merchant of Venice as two-‘move’ play; Initial situation of The Merchant of Venice; Bassanio secures funding for Belmont quest from Shylock; Bassanio begins quest; Bassanio arrives in Belmont; Unification of Structuralist and Feminist discourses – Portia’s ‘villainous’ father is defeated; Bassanio-Portia, Gratiano-Nerissa marriages; Lorenzo’s heroic quest; Lorenzo and Jessica’s desire for marriage; Lorenzo and Jessica flee Venice, laden with Shylock’s riches; Tubal unsuccessfully pursues Lorenzo and Jessica; Lorenzo-Jessica marriage, Bassanio returns to Venice; Second ‘move’ begins; Portia resolves to intervene on Antonio’s behalf; Portia renders Shylock impotent; Portia and Nerissa return to Belmont; Theme of wives bantering with husbands; Happy endings for Bassanio-Portia, Gratiano-Nerissa, Lorenzo-Jessica, and Antonio; Conclusion.}

In this essay I will examine the extent to which women are shackled by patriarchy in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night1 and The Merchant of Venice2. I will firstly apply Vladimir Propp’s3 tool of narrative analysis to Twelfth Night in order to provide Structuralist evidence for the Feminist critique of this play propounded by Lisa Jardine4. I will then extend Jardine’s contentions to The Merchant of Venice, using Propp’s narratological principles to highlight the various ways in which women are constrained by patriarchy in this play. The insights which arise from this methodology will be fully explored in the conclusion to this essay.[^]

From a Proppian perspective, Twelfth Night can be interpreted as a two-‘move’5 play. The first ‘move’ comprises the heroic quests of Sebastian and Viola, whilst the second ‘move’ encompasses Maria’s heroic quest. I will analyse these ‘moves’ consecutively.[^]

The ‘initial situation’6 common to both ‘moves’ in Twelfth Night can be described with reference to the opening scene of the play – videlicet, Orsino is in love with the grieving Olivia:

O! she that hath a heart of that fine frame
To pay this debt of love but to a brother,
How will she love when […]
These sovereign thrones, are all supplied and fill’d
(Her sweet perfections) with one self king.-7[^]

Into this story of unrequited love come the Messaline twins, Sebastian and Viola. The father of Sebastian and Viola dies “when Viola from her birth/Had number’d thirteen years”8 (Function I)9. Lisa Jardine argues that Sebastian of Messaline’s death means that the twins “are, therefore, obliged to become dependent on households other than those of their own close kin.”10 Therefore, Sebastian and Viola desire a secure place in “the domestic economy of a household other than that of their family of birth”11 (Function VIIIa)12. Implicitly, Sebastian and Viola decide to go on a quest for employment and leave home (Functions X13 and XI14); as Jardine notes, “they are shipwrecked on an unspecified voyage, and voyages are (in narrative) conventionally quests or searches.”15[^]

Sebastian and Viola are separated as a result of the shipwreck16, and thereafter the fate of each twin is dealt with in separate scenes before the play’s dénouement. In the Proppian interpretation of the play which follows, I will similarly analyse the respective actions of Sebastian and Viola according to their appearance in the text.[^]

Viola converses with the Captain upon whose “driving boat”17 Viola hung “after our ship did split”18. Initially despairing of Sebastian’s fate, Viola is comforted by the Captain’s report that he “saw your brother,/Most provident in peril, bind himself/(Courage and hope both teaching him the practice)/To a strong mast that lived upon the sea”19 (Function XII)20. Viola gives the Captain gold “For saying so”21, and proceeds to converse amicably with him (Function XIII)22. As a result of this good-natured exchange, the Captain agrees to help Viola in her plan to be presented to Orsino as a eunuch, “Be you his eunuch and your mute I’ll be:/When my tongue blabs, then let mine eyes not see”23 (Function XIV)24.[^]

Having acquired the Captain’s complicity in her plan to serve Orsino, Viola is led to Orsino’s court by the Captain and is accepted into Orsino’s service (Function XV)25. The success of her plan is apparent when Orsino declares that he has revealed his innermost thoughts and feelings to ‘Cesario’ (the disguised Viola), “Cesario,/Thou know’st no less but all: I have unclasp’d/To thee the book even of my secret soul”26.[^]

As a preferred member of Orsino’s ‘train’, the duty of courting Olivia on the Duke’s behalf falls to Viola, “Therefore, good youth, address thy gait unto her:/Be not denied access, stand at her doors,/And tell them there thy fixed foot shall grow/Till thou have audience.”27 Viola acquiesces despite the fact that “Whoe’er I woo, myself would be his wife”28, and the next scene sees her commence a lengthy wooing of Olivia on Orsino’s behalf, “If I did love you in my master’s flame,/With such a suffering, such a deadly life,/In your denial I would find no sense:/I would not understand it.”29[^]

In a Proppian reading of the play, Viola’s reluctant courtship of Olivia can be seen as fulfilling Function XVI30 – an interpretation that designates Olivia as the ‘villain’ of this ‘move’. The justification for treating Olivia as the ‘villain’ of this ‘move’ comes from the notion that Olivia can be seen as a model for how women should not behave in Shakespeare’s time – they should not live independent of men, shun their company, or refuse to enter into the patriarchal institution of marriage. This notion is aptly summarized by Jardine when she writes that Olivia’s love for Viola is “patriarchy’s retribution for mis-taking the conventions both of service and of marriage as a female head of household in an order explicitly designated male in its defining relationships.”31 Conversely, Viola desperately longs to enter marriage; Orsino’s promise of freedom to Viola if the courtship is successful, “Prosper well in this,/And thou shalt live as freely as thy lord/To call his fortunes thine”32, threatens to liquidate Viola’s secure service in the Duke’s court.[^]

Following this first courtship scene between Viola and Olivia – at the conclusion of which Malvolio is dispatched by Olivia to ‘return’ the ring that Viola ‘left behind’ – the focus of the play switches to Sebastian’s plight. Having been rescued “from the breach of the sea”33 by Antonio, Sebastian is questioned by Antonio as to “whither you are bound”34 (Function XII)35. Initially reluctant to elaborate on his plans for Antonio’s benefit, Sebastian decides to disclose his belief that his sister “is drowned already, sir”36 and elaborates upon his intention to travel “to the Count Orsino’s court”37 (Function XIII)38. As a result of his decision to answer Antonio in a friendly manner, Sebastian acquires Antonio’s enduring friendship, “I have many enemies in Orsino’s court,/Else would I very shortly see thee there;/But, come what may, I do adore thee so/That danger shall seem sport, and I will go”39 (Function XIV)40.[^]

The subsequent scene relates Malvolio’s ‘returning’ of Orsino’s ring to Viola (Function XVII41), an interchange that leaves Viola with a hazy ‘realization’ that Olivia “mistaken, seems to dote on me.”42 This ‘realization’ is clarified later on when Olivia frankly confesses her love to Viola, “I love thee so, that, maugre all thy pride,/Nor wit, nor reason, can my passion hide.”43 Thus, the threat that Olivia posed to Viola’s secure service in Orsino’s domestic economy is ‘defeated’, liquidated (Functions XVIII44 and XIX45).[^]

Having courted Olivia on Orsino’s behalf twice, “I did send,/After the last enchantment you did here,/A ring in chase of you”46, Viola takes her leave of Olivia’s company for a third time – “I will acquit you”47 – with a view to returning to Orsino’s court (Function XX)48.[^]

At this point in the play, members of Olivia’s household intervene in an unhelpful but humorous fashion in Viola’s quest. In order to stop Sir Andrew Aguecheek from leaving Olivia’s abode as a result of his jealousy in the face of Olivia’s preferment of Viola, “I saw your niece do more favours to the count’s/serving man than ever she bestowed upon me: I saw’t i’ the orchard”49, Sir Toby and Fabian induce an imminent, comically-fearful duel between Viola and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Function XXI)50.[^]

Just as Viola and Sir Andrew are about to ‘battle’, Antonio enters, mistakes Viola for Sebastian, and effectively ends the ‘clash’ between the two assailants, “If this young gentleman/Have done offence, I take the fault on me:/If you offend him, I for him defy you”51 (Function XXII)52. Sir Toby then intends to fight Antonio, before two Officers enter and arrest Antonio “at the suit/Of Count Orsino.”53 The indignation that Antonio expresses when the perplexed Viola is unable to ‘return’ his purse provides the motivation for Sir Andrew, Sir Toby, and Fabian’s pursuit of Viola at the close of the scene, “‘Slid, I’ll after him again and beat him.”54[^]

However, the next scene further develops the humorous potential of mistaken identity, as it becomes clear that Feste, Sir Andrew et al are confusing Sebastian with Viola. Sir Andrew and Sebastian exchange blows (Function XXI)55, with Feste leaving to inform Olivia that her ‘love interest’ is under attack. Just as Sir Toby declares that he “must have an ounce or two of this/malapert blood from you”56, Olivia intervenes on Sebastian’s behalf, “Hold, Toby! on thy life I charge thee, hold!”57 (Function XXII)58

Olivia then dismisses Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Fabian, before entreating the disbelieving Sebastian to enter her abode, “come, I pr’ythee.”59 Sebastian enters his new ‘home’ with Olivia unwittingly confirming that she believes Sebastian to be the same ‘Cesario’ she has pined for, “Beshrew his [Sir Toby’s] soul for me,/He started one poor heart of mine in thee… ‘Would thou’dst be rul’d by me!”60 (Function XXIII)61[^]

Olivia initiates a hasty marriage to Sebastian shortly thereafter – “Now go with me, and with this holy man,/Into the chantry by; there, before him,/And underneath that consecrated roof,/Plight me the full assurance of your faith”62 – but she is unaware that her groom is not the same ‘Cesario’ that she has been courting. The implications of this marriage (Function XXXI)63 are unravelled in Act Five.[^]

The final, single-scene Act builds to a crescendo through the employment of the ‘mistaken identity’ technique – Viola is confused with Sebastian by Antonio, Olivia, the Priest, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Sir Toby Belch (Function XXIII)64, before Sebastian himself enters. Antonio speaks on behalf of all present when he asks Sebastian, “How have you made division of yourself?”65 (Function XXV)66 Sebastian and Viola converse (Function XXVI)67, and realize that they are twins not doppelgangers (Function XXVII)68“If nothing lets to make us happy both/But this my masculine usurp’d attire,/Do not embrace me till each circumstance/Of place, time, fortune, do cohere and jump/That I am Viola”69. Viola promises to bring Sebastian “to a captain in this town,/Where lie my maiden weeds”70 (Function XXIX)71.

Having recognized his sister, Sebastian explains the marriage situation to Olivia, “So comes it, lady, you have been mistook… You would have been contracted to a maid,/Nor are you therein, by my life, deceiv’d.”72 Although Olivia may not be ‘deceived’ by her marriage to Sebastian, she is, in a sense, ‘punished’ by patriarchy insofar as she is integrated into the patriarchal institution of marriage – an institution that she was initially determined to flout (Function XXX)73. Olivia accepts this situation, and offers to arrange and pay for the marriage between Orsino and Viola, “My lord, so please you, these things further thought on,/To think me as well a sister as a wife,/One day shall crown the alliance on’t, so please you,/Here at my house, and at my proper cost.”74 Thus, the result of Sebastian and Viola’s heroic quests is marriage (Function XXXI)75.[^]

The second ‘move’ in this play begins in the scene following Malvolio’s ‘returning’ of Orsino’s ring to Viola.76 As a result of Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Feste’s revelry – to which Maria is a witness – Malvolio declares that he will report the comport of Maria et al to Olivia, “Mistress Mary, if you prized my lady’s favour at anything more than contempt,/you would not give means for this uncivil rule: she/shall know of it, by this hand.”77 (Function VIII)78[^]

Sir Andrew and Sir Toby are incensed at Malvolio’s behaviour, with Sir Toby seconding Sir Andrew’s initial call for revenge: “Do’t, knight: I’ll write thee a challenge, or I’ll deliver thy indignation/to him by word of mouth.”79 (Function IX)80 In response to this call for vengeance, Maria decides on a course of action, “For Monsieur/Malvolio, let me alone with him: if I do not gull him into a nay-word, and/make him a common recreation, do not think I have wit enough to lie/straight in my bed.”81 (Function X)82 With Maria leaving her role as a female servant oppressed by Malvolio’s patriarchal strictures (Function XI)83, Sir Toby demands to know how Maria intends to bamboozle Malvolio, “What wilt thou do?”84 (Function XXV)85 In response to this question, Maria explains her plan to make a laughing stock of Malvolio; Sir Toby is delighted with her idea, and aptly summarizes her intention, “He shall think, by the letters that thou wilt drop, that they come/from my niece, and that she’s in love with him.”86[^]

Maria quickly puts her plan into action, Malvolio believes that Olivia is addressing him in writing, and Sir Andrew, Sir Toby, and Fabian are thrilled with the success of Maria’s device, “I will not give my part of this sport for a pension of thousands to/be paid from the Sophy.”87 (Function XXVI)88

A short while later, Sir Toby, Fabian, and Maria witness the extent to which this contrivance has affected Malvolio – having bantered with Olivia in an inappropriate, ‘knowing’ fashion, Malvolio proceeds to disrespect the three avengers, “Go, hang yourselves all! You are idle shallow things: I am not/of your element. You shall know more hereafter.”89 As a result of Malvolio’s inapt behaviour, Olivia “is/already in the belief that he’s mad”90. (Functions XXVII and XXVIII)91[^]

Having outlined a plan of punishment for Malvolio immediately after the villain’s first ‘conspiratorial’ meeting with Olivia, “Come, we’ll have him in a dark room and bound”92, Sir Toby and Maria encourage Feste to torment Malvolio in the guise of “Sir Topas, the curate”93. (Function XXX)94[^]

Like Sebastian and Viola, the result of Maria’s heroic quest is marriage; Sir Toby marries her as a reward for her vengeful machinations against Malvolio, “Maria writ/The letter at Sir Toby’s great importance:/In recompense whereof, he hath married her.”95 I will explore the implications of this integration of women into the patriarchal institution of marriage in the conclusion to this essay.[^]

Before performing a Proppian analysis of The Merchant of Venice, it is worthwhile mentioning Emrys Jones’ conception of the ‘two-part structure’ of Shakespeare’s plays,

that a play will usually be found to divide into two unequal movements (corresponding roughly to the first three acts and the last two acts) and that the division between them is such as to make it likely that in performance a major interval took place.96[^]

This is a useful notion to bear in mind, particularly as the two Proppian ‘moves’ in this play correspond exactly to this ‘two-part structure’. The first ‘move’ comprises Bassanio and Lorenzo’s heroic quests, whilst the second ‘move’ consists of Portia’s heroic undertaking. In the first ‘move’ I shall analyse Bassanio’s quest before describing Lorenzo’s journey; again, I will examine the two ‘moves’ consecutively. The implications of this structure will be discussed later in the course of this Proppian analysis and in the conclusion to the essay.[^]

In Proppian terminology, the ‘initial situation’97 in The Merchant of Venice can be described with reference to the opening two scenes of the play – videlicet, Bassanio is in financial debt to Antonio, and Portia is at the mercy of her dead father’s marriage decree:

To you, Antonio,
I owe the most, in money and in love;
And from your love I have a warranty
To unburthen all my plots and purposes,
How to get clear of all the debts I owe.98

Is it not hard, Nerissa,
That I cannot choose one nor refuse none?99[^]

Bassanio approaches Antonio with a request for sufficient funding for a journey from Venice to Belmont, in order that he may court Portia, “In Belmont is a lady richly left,/And she is fair…had I but the means…I should questionless be fortunate.”100 (Function I)101 Since Antonio’s “fortunes are at sea”102 he urges Bassanio to make loan inquiries in Venice for which Antonio will be bound, “Try what my credit can in Venice do”103 (Function II)104. Following Antonio’s suggestion, Bassanio meets with Shylock in an attempt to secure the necessary funding (Function III)105. Antonio joins Shylock and Bassanio, confirms the fact that he wishes to borrow “three thousand ducats./And for three months”106, and questions whether Shylock will provide the requisite finances, “Well, Shylock, shall we be beholding to you?”107 (Functions IV and V)108.

Shylock spies an opportunity to exact revenge upon Antonio for the ill-treatment he has previously suffered at his hands, admitting in an aside that “I hate him for that he is a Christian;/…and he rails,/Even there where merchants most do congregate,/On me, my bargains and my well-won thrift,/Which he calls interest.”109

Disguising his villainous intentions beneath a veil of friendship, Shylock proposes to loan the money to Bassanio if Antonio signs a legal contract declaring that Shylock may effectively kill him were he to forfeit on the repayment, “If he should break his day, what should I gain/By the exaction of the forfeiture/…I say,/To buy his favour, I extend this friendship”110 (Function VI)111. Surprised at Shylock’s apparent generosity, Antonio readily acquiesces to the conditions of the loan, “Content, in faith: I’ll seal to such a bond,/And say there is much kindness in the Jew.”112 (Function VII)113 Shortly thereafter, Shylock facilitates the entrance of Launcelot Gobbo to Bassanio’s service in order that Bassanio’s funds will dwindle more quickly, “Therefore I part with him, and part with him/To one that I would have him help to waste/His borrow’d purse.”114[^]

Having obtained the requisite finances from Shylock, Bassanio now desires to woo Portia and thereby obtain sufficient wealth to repay his fiscal debt to Antonio (Function VIIIa)115. Antonio helps to prepare Bassanio’s ship, seeks Gratiano on his friend’s behalf, and bestows his blessing upon Bassanio’s voyage, “Slubber not business for my sake, Bassanio,/But stay the very riping of the time”116 (Function IX)117. With Antonio’s blessing ringing in his ears, Bassanio leaves for Belmont, “Why, man, I saw Bassanio under sail:/With him is Gratiano gone along”118 (Functions X and XI)119.[^]

Bassanio and Gratiano arrive in Belmont following their sea voyage (Function XV)120, with Launcelot Gobbo going before the main party to announce their imminent arrival at Portia’s house.121 Bassanio then has to choose the correct casket in order to win Portia as his wife, a process that proves to be excruciating for Portia who is desperately in love with Bassanio, “O! these naughty times/Puts bars between the owners and their rights;/And so, though yours, not yours.”122 Portia’s distress at the prospect of Bassanio choosing incorrectly is justified, as the Prince of Morocco and the Prince of Arragon have previously failed to select the casket that corresponds to her father’s directive.[^]

Portia’s obedience to her dead father’s mandate exemplifies Jardine’s contention that “In the middle to upper ranks of society, deference and submissiveness were internalized in the form of ‘good manners’…both a condition of their economic support, and an internalized state.”123 Fortunately, Bassanio selects the casket that Portia’s deceased father has dictated as the correct choice, “but thou, thou meagre lead,/Which rather threat’nest than dost promise aught,/…here choose I”124, thus freeing Portia from her father’s posthumous patriarchal shackles (Functions XVI, XXVIII and XIX)125. Bassanio also frees Nerissa from Portia’s father’s chains, as Nerissa is so loyal to Portia that she had vowed not to marry Gratiano before Portia had obtained a husband, “at last, if promise last,/I got a promise of this fair one here,/To have her love, provided that your fortune/Achiev’d her mistress.”126

This unites the Structuralist and Feminist discourses, insofar as Portia’s father can be seen as the most notorious villain of the first ‘move’ of the play from both critical perspectives. He negates Portia’s freedom to choose her husband; even from beyond the grave, patriarchy can be seen to be exerting a controlling influence over the lives of women. The implications of this oppression will be discussed in the conclusion to this essay.[^]

At this point in the play, hasty marriages take place between Bassanio and Portia, and Gratiano and Nerissa, before the men return to Venice on behalf of Antonio – “First, go with me to church and call me wife,/And then away to Venice to your friend”127 (Function XXXI)128.[^]

Lorenzo’s heroic quest in the first ‘move’ of the play effectively serves to treble the theme of female liberation from fatherly, patriarchal oppression that pervades the first ‘move’. As a result of Bassanio’s heroic undertaking, Portia and Nerissa are freed from the marital constraints placed upon them by Portia’s father and Nerissa’s sense of loyalty; Lorenzo’s emancipation of Jessica from Shylock’s shackles serves as a trebling technique to further this theme. Although I have chosen to analyse Bassanio’s quest prior to Lorenzo’s, it is possible to generate a Proppian scheme to describe the action as it occurs in the text.129[^]

Lorenzo desires to marry Jessica (Function VIIIa)130, a fact highlighted by Jessica’s emotional soliloquy, “O Lorenzo!/If thou keep promise, I shall end this strife,/Become a Christian and thy loving wife.”131 Jessica sends a letter to Lorenzo via Launcelot Gobbo, detailing the manner in which Lorenzo “shall take her from her father’s house;/What gold and jewels she is furnish’d with;/What page’s suit she hath in readiness.”132 (Function IX)133[^]

Lorenzo resolves to act decisively, instructing Launcelot Gobbo to “Tell gentle Jessica/I will not fail her-speak it privately; go-“ 134 (Function X)135. After Lorenzo seeks out the disguised Jessica, “transformed to a boy”136, they escape from Venice carrying a casket laden with Shylock’s riches: “in a gondola were seen together/Lorenzo and his amorous Jessica”137 (Function XI)138.[^]

Having escaped from Venice, Lorenzo and Jessica are pursued by Tubal on behalf of Shylock, “How now, Tubal? what news from Genoa? Hast thou found my/daughter?”139 (Function XXI)140 However, Salerio directs Lorenzo and Jessica to Belmont, “My purpose was not to have seen you here;/But meeting with Salerio by the way,/He did entreat me…To come with him along.”141 Thanks to Salerio’s intervention, Lorenzo and Jessica escape Tubal’s pursuit, “I often came where I did hear of her, but cannot find her.”142 (Function XXII)143[^]

At Belmont, Lorenzo and Jessica meet with Portia et al at a time when Bassanio has chosen the correct casket and secured marriages for himself and Gratiano. Salerio gives Bassanio a letter from Antonio, a letter that details Antonio’s misfortune, “Here is a letter, lady;/The paper as the body of my friend,/And every word in it a gaping wound/Issuing life-blood.”144 Bassanio’s happiness at ‘winning’ Portia’s hand in marriage is moderated by the news of Antonio’s adversity, providing the motivation for his and Gratiano’s return to Venice following their speedy marriages. Lorenzo and Jessica are married at the same time as the two other couples (Function XXXI)145.[^]

The second ‘move’ of the play begins when Portia learns of Shylock’s villainous intention to invoke Venetian law with a view to mortally wounding Antonio, “I have heard him swear…That he would rather have Antonio’s flesh/Than twenty times the value of the sum/That he did owe him”146; Jessica’s testimony is confirmed in the following scene, with Shylock demanding the arrest of Antonio, “Gaoler, look to him. Tell not me of mercy./This is the fool that lent out money gratis”147 (Function VIII)148.[^]

Portia resolves to intervene on Antonio’s behalf, disguising her real motivation for leaving Belmont in a conversation with Lorenzo, “Lorenzo, I commit into your hands/The husbandry and manage of my house…I have toward heaven breath’d a secret vow/To live in prayer and contemplation…Until her husband and my lord’s return”149 (Function IX)150. Sending Antonio’s letter to Doctor Bellario via Balthasar, Portia tells Nerissa that she has “work in hand/That you yet know not of. We’ll see our husbands/Before they think of us”151 (Function X)152. Portia and Nerissa then leave Belmont, “therefore haste away,/For we must measure twenty miles today”153 (Function XI)154.[^]

Having met with Balthasar at “the traject, to the common ferry/Which trades to Venice”155, Portia and Nerissa acquire the requisite “notes and garments”156 from Doctor Bellario – enabling them to appear as a male Doctor of Law and Lawyer’s Clerk respectively. They then travel to Venice (Function XV)157, and Nerissa enters the Venetian Court of Justice to facilitate the entrance of Portia, “He attendeth here hard by/To know your answer, whether you’ll admit him.”158 The Duke of Venice’s admittance of Portia to the court, “You are welcome: take your place”159, marks the start of a humorous interchange between Portia and Shylock. Shylock is lead to believe that he can legally kill Antonio, before Portia intervenes at the last moment and renders Shylock impotent:

Take then thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh;
But, in the cutting it, if thou dost shed
One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods
Are, by the laws of Venice, confiscate
Unto the state of Venice. […]
The party, ‘gainst the which he doth contrive,
Shall seize one half his goods: the other half
Comes to the privy coffer of the state […]160[^]

Shylock’s villainy is defeated, and he agrees to convert to Christianity and bequeath his worldly wealth to Lorenzo and Jessica upon his death, “I am content”161 (Functions XVI, XVIII, and XIX)162. As recompense for their successful intervention on behalf of Antonio, the disguised Portia and Nerissa obtain Bassanio and Gratiano’s wedding rings “as some remembrance of us, as a tribute,/Not as fee.”163 Shortly thereafter, Portia and Nerissa return to Belmont, “We’ll away tonight,/And be a day before our husbands home”164 (Function XX)165.[^]

Back in Belmont, Portia and Nerissa play games with Bassanio and Gratiano regarding the ‘absence’ of their wedding rings, “You swore to me, when I did give it you,/That you would wear it till your hour of death”166, before admitting the role they actually played in setting Antonio free. This bantering on the part of Portia and Nerissa serves to treble the theme of wives joking around with husbands, as earlier in this final scene Jessica has some verbal fun with Lorenzo, “In such a night/Did young Lorenzo swear he lov’d her well,/Stealing her soul with many vows of faith,/And ne’er a true one.”167[^]

Bassanio and Gratiano gratefully recognize the roles played by their wives, “Sweet doctor, you shall be my bedfellow:/When I am absent, then lie with my wife”168 (Function XXVII)169. During this extended game of recognition, Portia gives Antonio a letter detailing good news for the merchant, “three of your argosies/Are richly come to harbour suddenly”170, and Nerissa hands Lorenzo “and Jessica,/From the rich Jew, a special deed of gift,/After his death, of all he dies possess’d of.”171 On this happy note, Portia and Bassanio, and Nerissa and Gratiano, are free to enjoy their marriage in a state of unperturbed bliss (Function XXXI)172.[^]

Having performed the above analysis of the two plays, what can be drawn from this union of Structuralist and Feminist discourses in the consideration of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice? The most striking message that Twelfth Night appears to put forth is that women should live in a state of complete dependence upon men. Olivia is presented as the ‘villain’ of the first ‘move’ because she refuses to comply with Orsino’s romantic overtures. Sebastian’s heroic quest results in a marriage between him and Olivia; Sebastian puts Olivia back in her ‘rightful’ place, as he integrates her into the patriarchal institution of marriage.

Viola is totally reliant upon Orsino for secure employment, and she is a heroic role model for women because she actively strives to enter marriage – the cornerstone of patriarchal society. As Jardine appositely summarizes, “At the end of the play, the marriages of the twin siblings to Olivia and Orsino effect what Orsino’s courtship of Olivia was originally designed to achieve – the Orsino and Olivia households enter into a kin relationship with one another”173.

Having successfully retaliated against Malvolio’s wrongdoing, Maria is ‘rewarded’ with matrimony; even though Sir Toby is portrayed as a comical drunkard, marriage is depicted as a fitting recompense for her heroic quest. Thus, the resolution of Twelfth Night involves the integration of three women – Olivia, Viola, and Mariainto the patriarchal scheme of things.

The first ‘move’ of The Merchant of Venice comprises the liberation of three women from an older generation of oppressive patriarchy. Bassanio correctly chooses the leaden casket, freeing Portia and the loyal Nerissa from Portia’s father’s posthumous liberty-negating legacy. Lorenzo similarly frees Jessica from her financially-finical, Christian-hating father.

It can be argued that Shakespeare makes symbolic use of the term ‘casket’, “a small box or chest for jewels, etc; a coffin”174, insofar as Portia’s portrait and freedom are kept in a ‘box’, a fact that signifies the ‘death’ of her liberty. Similarly, Shylock desires to keep Jessica’s freedom in a metaphorical ‘box’. When Jessica is freed by Lorenzo she takes with her a casket laden with jewels and money – following her liberation from the figurative ‘casket’, Jessica escapes with literal and metaphorical treasure.

The second ‘move’ of the play sees the three women embracing their new-found ‘freedom’. Jessica banters with the new man in her life, while Portia and Nerissa become hero figures once Portia’s father’s from-beyond-the-grave patriarchal shackles are removed by Bassanio. Portia and Nerissa are no longer destined to be merely desirable objects; they are able to play a more active role and pull the strings to positive effect in men’s lives with their liberation of Antonio from Shylock’s tyranny. However, the optimistic view that Portia, Nerissa, and Jessica become autonomous individuals in the second ‘move’ of the play must be tempered with the fact that all three are nevertheless integrated into patriarchal society through marriage.[^]


1William Shakespeare. ‘Twelfth Night’, in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Scotland: Geddes & Grosset, 2002. [I choose to give full bibliographical details here because I will repeatedly refer to this text in the essay, hereafter using the abbreviated designation: Shakespeare, Twelfth Night.]
2William Shakespeare. ‘The Merchant of Venice’, in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Scotland: Geddes & Grosset, 2002. [I choose to give full bibliographical details here because I will repeatedly refer to this text in the essay, hereafter using the abbreviated designation: Shakespeare, TMoV.]
3Vladimir Propp. Morphology of the Folktale. Texas: University of Texas Press, 2005. [I choose to give full bibliographical details here because I will repeatedly refer to this text in the essay, hereafter using the abbreviated designation: VP, Morphology]
4Lisa Jardine. ‘Twins and travesties – Gender, dependency and sexual availability in Twelfth Night‘ in S. Zimmerman (ed). Erotic Politics: Desire on the Renaissance Stage. London: Routledge, 1992. [I choose to give full bibliographical details here because I will repeatedly refer to this text in the essay, hereafter using the abbreviated designation: LJ, Twins and travesties]
5VP, Morphology: “Morphologically, a tale…may be termed any development proceeding from villainy (A) or a lack (α), through intermediary functions to marriage (W*), or to other functions employed as a dénouement…This type of development is termed by us a move…Each new act of villainy, each new lack creates a new move. One tale may have several moves, and when analyzing a text, one must first of all determine the number of moves of which it consists…” (p.92)
6VP, Morphology: “A tale usually begins with some sort of initial situation. The members of a family are enumerated, or the future hero (e.g., a soldier) is simply introduced by mention of his name or indication of his status. Although this situation is not a function, it nevertheless is an important morphological element… We shall designate this element as the initial situation, giving it the sign α.” (pp.25-26, my emphasis)
7Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. I.i., ll.32-38, p.346.
8Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. V.i., ll.244-245, p.359.
9VP, Morphology: “2. An intensified form of absentation is represented by the death of parents2).” (p.26)
10LJ, Twins and travesties, p.31.
12VP, Morphology: “(5) Rationalized forms: money, the means of existence, etc., are lacking (α5).” (pp.35-36)
13VP, Morphology: “Designation: C.” (p.38)
14VP, Morphology: “Designation: ↑.” (p.39)
15LJ, Twins and travesties, p.31.
16VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “Sometimes a tale contains two seekers [Sebastian and Viola]… The heroes part in the middle of the first move. They usually part with omens [Sebastian and Viola separate, each fearing the death of the other sibling] at a road marker [at sea, in this case]. This road marker serves as a disuniting element. (Parting at a road marker [/at sea] we shall designate by the sign <." (p.93)
17Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. I.ii., l.11, p.346.
18Ibid, l.9.
19Ibid, ll.11-14.
20VP, Morphology: “2. The donor greets and interrogates the hero (D2). This form may be considered as a weakened form of testing… In the present case, however, direct testing is absent, and interrogation assumes the character of an indirect test. If the hero answers rudely he receives nothing, but if he responds politely he is rewarded with a steed, a sabre, and so on.” (p.40)
21Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. I.ii, l.17, p.346.
22VP, Morphology: “2. The hero answers (or does not answer) a greeting (E2).” (p.42)
23Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. I.ii., ll.59-60, p.346.
24VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “9. Various characters place themselves at the disposal of the hero (F9). An animal, for example, may either present its offspring or offer its services to the hero, making, as it were, a present of itself [in Viola’s case, the Captain helps to effect a masculine appearance in order to facilitate her acceptance into Orsino’s service]…” (p.45)
25VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “3. He [the hero] is led (G3). A ball of thread leads the way (234); a fox leads the hero to the princess (163) [; the Captain leads Viola to Orsino].” (p.51)
26Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. I.iv., ll.10-12, p.347.
27Ibid, ll.13-16.
28Ibid, l.42.
29Ibid, I.v., ll.261-264, p.349.
30VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “2. They engage in a competition (H2)… the hero and the villain engage in a competition. The hero wins with the help of cleverness [Viola’s ‘cleverness’ can be interpreted as successfully presenting herself as a desirable ‘man’, employing the ‘magical agent’ that she received from the Captain – masculine attire – to good effect. Olivia falls in love with ‘Cesario’, meaning that Viola’s status as a member of Orsino’s train is secure – she can continue to act as a serviceable intermediary between Orsino and Olivia, a role that guarantees her employment with Orsino and negates Olivia’s potential to wed the man that she herself desires as a husband]…” (p.52)
31LJ, Twins and travesties, p.33.
32Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. I.iv., ll.37-39, p.347.
33Ibid, II.i., l.27, p.349.
34Ibid, l.10.
35VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “2. The donor greets and interrogates the hero (D2). This form may be considered as a weakened form of testing… In the present case, however, direct testing is absent, and interrogation assumes the character of an indirect test. If the hero answers rudely he receives nothing, but if he responds politely he is rewarded with a steed, a sabre, and so on.” (p.40) [Sebastian’s ‘testing’ takes the same form as Viola’s]
36Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. II.i., l.32, p.347.
37Ibid, l.41.
38VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “2. The hero answers (or does not answer) a greeting (E2).” (p.42) [Sebastian’s positive response to Antonio mirrors Viola’s reaction to the Captain]
39Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. II.i., ll.43-46, p.349.
40VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “9. Various characters place themselves at the disposal of the hero (F9). An animal, for example, may either present its offspring or offer its services to the hero, making, as it were, a present of itself…” (p.45) [an eternal friend who is prepared to risk death on your behalf certainly “permits the eventual liquidation of misfortune” (p.39): Antonio follows Sebastian to Orsino’s domain despite the danger to his own person, and then defends ‘Sebastian’ {in fact, he protects Sebastian’s twin, Viola} in a duel with Sir Andrew Aguecheek]
41VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “2. The hero [Viola] receives a ring or a towel (J2).” (p.52)
42Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. II.ii., l.35, p.350. (my emphasis in quoted passage)
43Ibid, III.i., ll.156-157, p.353.
44VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “2. [S]He is defeated in a contest (I2).” (p.53) [Olivia’s potential rivalry with Viola for Orsino’s affections is ‘defeated’ – along with the threat she posed to Viola’s secure service as a member of Orsino’s household – as she continues to abjure Orsino’s overtures; her ‘villainous’ intention to shun the company of men throughout a seven-year mourning period is similarly nullified, since she has fallen in love with ‘Cesario’]
45VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “6. The use of a magical agent overcomes poverty (K6).” (p.54) [Viola’s masculine attire attains and maintains her service in Orsino’s domestic economy]
46Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. III.i., ll.116-118, p.353.
47Ibid, III.iv., l.214, p.355.
48VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “XX. THE HERO [Viola] RETURNS…Designation: ↓.” (p.55) [original typography]
49Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. III.ii., ll.4-5, p.354.
50VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “6. The pursuer attempts to kill the hero (Pr6).” (p.57) [of course, these ‘fight’ scenes are used for humorous effect in this play, and the pursuers’ “attempts to kill the hero” do not result in a fatality]
51Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. III.iv., ll.320-322, p.356.
52VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “9. He is saved from an attempt on his life (Rs9).” (p.58) [Antonio intervenes on Viola’s behalf]
53Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. III.iv., ll.334-335, p.356.
54Ibid, l.399.
55VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “6. The pursuer attempts to kill the hero (Pr6).” (p.57) [again, this ‘fight’ scene is employed in the same way as the one involving Viola and Sir Andrew Aguecheek]
56Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. IV.i., ll.44-45, p.357.
57Ibid, l.46.
58VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “9. He is saved from an attempt on his life (Rs9).” (p.58) [Just as Antonio intervenes on Viola’s behalf, so Olivia intervenes on Sebastian’s behalf]
59Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. IV.i., l.65, p.357.
60Ibid, ll.59-65.
61VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “XXIII. THE HERO [Sebastian], UNRECOGNIZED, ARRIVES HOME OR IN ANOTHER COUNTRY…Designation: o.” (p.60) [original typography]
62Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. IV.iii., ll.23-26, p.358.
63VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “2. Sometimes the hero [Sebastian] simply marries without obtaining a throne, since his bride [Olivia] is not a princess (W*).” (p.64)
64VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “XXIII. THE HERO [Viola], UNRECOGNIZED, ARRIVES HOME OR IN ANOTHER COUNTRY [/in the street before Olivia’s house]…Designation: o.” (p.60) [original typography]
65Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. V.i., l.222, p.359.
66VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “Designation: M… Riddle guessing and similar ordeals: to pose [or, in the case of Sebastian and Viola, to resolve] an unsolvable riddle…” (p.60)
67Ibid [my commentary]: “Designation: N… Forms of solution [the answer to the riddle of the ‘two Cesarios’, arrived at by means of a dialogue between Sebastian and Viola] correspond exactly, of course, to the forms of tasks…” (p.62)
68Ibid [my commentary]: “Designation: Q… Finally, the hero may be recognized immediately after a long period of separation… parents and children, brothers and sisters [the twin heroes, Sebastian and Viola], etc., may recognize one another.”
69Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. V.i., ll.249-253, p.359.
70Ibid, ll.254-255.
71VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “1. A new appearance is directly effected by means of the magical action of a helper (T1).” (p.62) [technically, this ‘transfiguration’ of the hero will take place at a later date, since the Captain is busy helping Malvolio escape his punishment; Viola will acquire a new appearance once she regains her feminine clothing, and Sebastian will also take on a new appearance insofar as he will not be continually mistaken for his sister]
72Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. V.i., ll.259-262, p.359.
73VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “XXX. THE VILLAIN [Olivia] IS PUNISHED…Designation: U.” (p.63)
74Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. V.i., ll.318-321, p.360.
75VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “2. Sometimes the hero [Viola and Sebastian] simply marries without obtaining a throne, since his bride [or groom: Orsino and Olivia] is not a princess (W*).” (p.64)
76Although I have chosen to examine the two ‘moves’ successively in this essay, it is possible to formulate a Proppian scheme that explains the overall structure of Twelfth Night as it occurs in the text. The analysis of the twins’ heroic quests has already been elucidated, and Maria’s heroic undertaking will shortly be described. With reference to pages 92-94 and 149-155 of VP’s Morphology, the following scheme can be generated to explain the two ‘moves’ as they are presented in the text of Twelfth Night:

An image of the Proppian scheme that best describes the narrative structure of 'Twelfth Night'.
Twelfth Night Proppian Scheme

77Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. II.iii., ll.122-124, p.350.
78VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “9. The villain expels someone (A9)…” (p.33) [Malvolio effectively threatens Maria with expulsion from Olivia’s household at this point, having earlier told Sir Toby that Olivia would be happy to be rid of his rowdiness]
79Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. II.iii., ll.131-132, p.350.
80VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “1. A call for help is given, with the resultant dispatch of the hero (B1).” (p.37) [Sir Andrew and Sir Toby demand Malvolio’s comeuppance, setting Maria’s scheming in motion]
81Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. II.iii., ll.137-140, p.350.
82VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “Designation: C… This moment characterized in such words, for instance, as the following: “Permit us to go in search of your princess”, etc.” (p.38) [Maria’s resolve to effect her own brand of justice can be seen as fulfilling this function]
83 Ibid, p.39 [my commentary]: “Designation: ↑… The departures of seeker-heroes [Maria] and victim-heroes are also different. The departures of the former group have search [in this case, a ‘search’ for a suitable practical joke to play on Malvolio] as their goal, while those of the latter mark the beginning of a journey without searches, on which various adventures await the hero.”
84Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. II.iii., l.155, p.350.
85VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “Designation M… Test of strength, adroitness, fortitude:… the task of…defeating…a rival (167), is given to the hero.” (p.61) [Sir Toby poses poses the task of settling a score with Malvolio to Maria]
86Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. II.iii., ll.168-169, p.351.
87Ibid, II.v., ll.187-188, p.352.
88VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “XXVI. THE TASK IS RESOLVED… Designation: N… Forms of solution correspond exactly, of course, to the forms of tasks.” (p.62) [Maria effects revenge by tricking Malvolio with her letters]
89Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. III.iv., ll.124-125, p.355.
90Ibid, III.iv,. ll.135-136, p.355.
91VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “XXVII. THE HERO IS RECOGNIZED…Designation: Q… The hero [Maria] is also recognized by his [/her] accomplishment of a difficult task [playing a prank on Malvolio]… XXVIII. THE FALSE HERO OR VILLAIN [Malvolio] IS EXPOSED…Designation: Ex… This function is, in most cases, connected with the one preceding…” (p.62) [Sir Toby’s declaration that Olivia believes Malvolio to be mad confirms two of VP’s Functions]
92Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. III.iv., l.135, p.355.
93Ibid, IV.ii., l.22, p.357.
94VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “XXX. THE VILLAIN [Malvolio] IS PUNISHED…Designation: U… The villain is shot, banished, tied to the tail of a horse, commits suicide, and so forth [is tormented in a dark room, in Malvolio’s case]…” (p.63)
95Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. V.i., ll.364-366, p.360.
96Emrys Jones. Scenic Form In Shakespeare. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971, p.68.
97VP, Morphology: “We shall designate this element as the initial situation, giving it the sign α.” (p.26)
98Shakespeare, TMoV. I.i., ll.130-134, p.222.
99Ibid, I.ii., ll.25-26, p.222.
100Ibid, I.i., ll.161-176, p.222.
101VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “Designation: β… 3. Sometimes members of the younger generation absent themselves3).” (p.26) [Bassanio approaches Antonio with a request to facilitate his ‘absentation’ from Venice]
102Shakespeare, TMoV. I.i., l.177, p.222.
103Ibid, l.180.
104VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “Designation: γ… 2. An inverted form of interdiction is represented by an order or a suggestion. (γ2)” (pp.26-27) [Antonio suggests that Bassanio attempt to secure a loan on Antonio’s credit]
105VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “Designation: δ… The forms of violation correspond to the forms of interdiction [i.e. Bassanio follows Antonio’s suggestion, δ2]. At this point a new personage, who can be termed the villain [Shylock], enters the tale. His role is to disturb the peace of a happy family, to cause some form of misfortune, damage, or harm…” (p.27)
106Shakespeare, TMoV. I.iii., ll.65-66, p.223.
107Ibid, l.104.
108VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “IV. THE VILLAIN MAKES AN ATTEMPT AT RECONNAISSANCE. (Definition: reconnaissance. Designation: ε.)… 3. In separate instances one encounters forms of reconnaissance by means of other personages3)… V. THE VILLAIN RECEIVES INFORMATION ABOUT HIS VICTIM. (Definition: delivery. Designation: ζ.)… 2-3. An inverted or other form of information-gathering evokes a corresponding answer. (ζ2ζ3).” (pp.28-29, my emphasis) [thus, Shylock is informed that Antonio desires to secure a loan for Bassanio]
109Shakespeare, TMoV. I.iii., ll.41-50, p.223.
110Ibid, ll.162-167, p.224.
111VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “VI. THE VILLAIN [Shylock] ATTEMPTS TO DECEIVE HIS VICTIM [Antonio] IN ORDER TO TAKE POSSESSION OF HIM [/kill him, in this case] OR OF HIS BELONGINGS. (Definition: trickery. Designation: η.) The villain, first of all, assumes a disguise [Shylock pretends to desire friendship with Antonio]… 1. The villain uses persuasion1).” (p.29)
112Shakespeare, TMoV. I.iii., ll.151-152, p.224.
113VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “Designation: θ… 1. The hero agrees to all of the villain’s persuasions… One notes that interdictions are always broken and, conversely, deceitful proposals are always accepted and fulfilled (θ1).” (p.30) [thus, Shylock’s ‘deceitful proposal’ is accepted by Antonio]
114Shakespeare, TMoV. II.iv., ll.49-51, p.226.
115VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “It is possible to register the following forms: (1) Lack of a bride (or a friend, or a human being generally)… The hero is unmarried and sets out to find a bride – with this a beginning is given to the course of the action (a1)… (5) Rationalized forms: money, the means of existence, etc. are lacking (a5).” (pp.35-36) [therefore, Bassanio’s motivation for beginning a heroic quest can be formulated as a15]
116Shakespeare, TMoV. II.viii, ll.39-40, p.227.
117VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “Designation: B… 3. The hero is allowed to depart from home (B3). In this instance the initiative for departure often comes from the hero himself [Bassanio determines to go to Belmont in order to woo Portia], and not from a dispatcher. Parents [/or a friend, Antonio, in this case] bestow their blessing…” (p.37)
118Shakespeare, TMoV. II.viii., ll.1-2, p.227.
119VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “X. THE SEEKER AGREES TO OR DECIDES UPON COUNTERACTION. (Definition: beginning counteraction. Designation: C.)… XI. THE HERO LEAVES HOME. (Definition: departure. Designation: ↑.)…” (pp.38-39) [these Functions encompass Bassanio’s decision to travel to Belmont and his subsequent departure]
120VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “Designation: G… 2. He travels on the ground or on water (G2)… on board a ship [this describes the journey of Bassanio and Gratiano]…” (pp.50-51)
121Justification for the assumption that it is Launcelot who announces their arrival can be found in the fact that Portia’s Messenger relates his entrance in the most hyperbolical, infatuated fashion (II.ix., ll.84-93); later on, Lorenzo informs Launcelot that he has impregnated a member of Portia’s ‘train’ (III.v., ll.37-38) – Launcelot and the Messenger have presumably discovered that their initial attraction was mutual, and acted accordingly!
122Shakespeare, TMoV. III.ii., ll.18-20, p.229.
123LJ, Twins and travesties, p.30.
124Shakespeare, TMoV. III.ii., ll.104-107.
125VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “XVI. THE HERO [Bassanio] AND THE VILLAIN [Portia’s father] JOIN IN DIRECT COMBAT. (Definition: struggle. Designation: H.)… 2. They engage in a competition (H2)… XVIII. THE VILLAIN [Portia’s father] IS DEFEATED. (Definition: victory. Designation: I.)…2. He is defeated in a contest (I2)… XIX. THE INITIAL MISFORTUNE OR LACK IS LIQUIDATED. (Designation: K) This function, together with villainy (A), constitutes a pair… 10. A captive [Portia] is freed [from her father’s posthumous patriarchal shackles] (K10).” (pp.51-55) [The sequence of Functions XVI-XIX is similar to that of Functions XXV-XXVIII. In the latter sequence a difficult task is proposed to the hero, the successful completion of which leads directly to marriage. However, it seems better to consider Bassanio’s correct choice of the leaden casket as a ‘fight’ with Portia’s villainous father because it leads to the liquidation of Bassanio’s initial ‘lack’ of a wife and money and frees the ‘captive’ Portia (Function XIX); a specific Function recognising this liquidation of misfortune is not apparent following the successful resolution of a difficult task. Furthermore, the tyrannical oppression of Portia’s freedom to choose a husband singles Portia’s father out as the primary villain of the first ‘move’ of this play. Thus, it is fitting to deal with this episode as a ‘fight’ with a villain, particularly since Bassanio would be unable to ‘woo’ another lady if he were to choose incorrectly – there is the chance that Portia’s father could ‘harm’ Bassanio insofar as he would be rendered a bachelor forever. If a critic wanted to consider this episode as the successful resolution of a task, Functions XVI (Bassanio having to choose a casket to win Portia) and XVIII (Bassanio’s correct choice and the subsequent freeing of Portia from her father’s dictatorial chains) as described in this analysis could be transposed into Functions XXV (a difficult task is proposed by Portia’s father to Bassanio), XXVI (Bassanio successfully resolves this task), XXVII (Bassanio is recognized as the hero), and XXVIII (Portia’s father is exposed as the villain). However, the application of Propp’s narrative theory as described in the body of this essay creates a Functional – and, therefore, Structural – parallelism between the first and second ‘moves’ of the tale.]
126Shakespeare, TMoV. III.ii., ll.205-208, p.230.
127Ibid, ll.302-303, p.231.
128VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “2. Sometimes the hero [Bassanio and Gratiano] simply marries without obtaining a throne, since his bride [Portia and Nerissa] is not a princess (W*).” (p.64)
129With reference to pages 92-94 and 149-155 of VP’s Morphology, a Proppian scheme can be generated to describe the tale elements as they are presented in the text. Bassanio’s heroic first ‘move’ quest has already been analysed, and Lorenzo’s first ‘move’ journey and Portia’s second ‘move’ undertaking will be expressed shortly in the body of this essay.

The Merchant of Venice Proppian Scheme
The Merchant of Venice Proppian Scheme

130VP, Morphology: “Lack of a bride… (a1).” (p.35)
131Shakespeare, TMoV. II.iii., ll.19-21, p.225.
132Ibid, II.iv., ll.30-32, p.226.
133VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “1. A call for help is given [by Jessica], with the resultant dispatch of the hero [Lorenzo] (B1).” (p.37)
134Shakespeare, TMoV. II.iv., ll.19-20, p.226.
135VP, Morphology: “Designation: C.” (p.38)
136Shakespeare, TMoV. II.vi., l.39, p.226.
137Ibid, II.viii., ll.8-9, p.227.
138VP, Morphology: “Designation: ↑.” (p.39)
139Shakespeare, TMoV. III.i., ll.78-79, p.228.
140VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “Designation: Pr… 2. He demands the guilty person (Pr2) [Shylock demands that Tubal find and return his daughter].” (p.56)
141Shakespeare, TMoV. III.ii., ll.226-229, p.230.
142Ibid, III.i., l.80, p.228.
143VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “Designation: Rs… 5. The hero is hidden by blacksmiths (Rs5).” (p.57) [This is the category of ‘rescue’ that corresponds most closely to Salerio’s guidance of Lorenzo and Jessica to Belmont, where the pair ‘hide’ and thereby elude Tubal’s pursuit]
144Shakespeare, TMoV. III.ii., ll.262-265, p.230.
145VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “2. Sometimes the hero [Lorenzo] simply marries without obtaining a throne, since his bride [Jessica] is not a princess (W*).” (p.64)
146Shakespeare, TMoV. III.ii., ll.283-287, p.231.
147Ibid, III.iii., ll.1-2, p.231.
148VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “8. The villain demands or entices his victim (A8). Usually this form is the result of a deceitful agreement [Shylock demands that he be allowed to cut a pound of flesh from Antonio’s body]…” (pp.32-33]
149Shakespeare, TMoV. III.iv., ll.24-30, p.231.
150VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “3. The hero is allowed to depart from home (B3)… The hero [Portia] sometimes does not announce his [/her] real aims for leaving: [s]he asks for permission to go out walking, etc.[to live in prayer until Bassanio and Gratiano’s return], but in reality [s]he is setting off for the struggle.” (p.37)
151Shakespeare, TMoV. III.iv., ll.57-59, p.231.
152VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “Designation: C… This moment is characterized in such words, for instance, as the following: “Permit us [Portia and Nerissa] to go in search of your princess [/intervene on behalf of our husbands’ friend]”, etc… a volitional decision, of course, precedes the search.” (p.38)
153Shakespeare, TMoV. III.iv., ll.83-84, p.232.
154VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “XI. THE HERO [Portia and Nerissa] LEAVES HOME. (Definition: departure. Designation: ↑.)… Now a new character enters the tale: this personage might be termed the donor, or more precisely, the provider… It is from him that the hero…obtains some agent…which permits the eventual liquidation of misfortune. But before receipt of the magical agent takes place, the hero is subjected to a number of quite diverse actions which, however, all lead to the result that a magical agent comes into his hands.” (p.39) [In Portia’s quest it can be interpreted implicitly (although it is not explicitly stated) that Balthasar is interrogated by Doctor Bellario on Portia’s behalf {Function XII, D2 – “2. The donor greets and interrogates the hero…”} (p.40), Bellario explains the situation with reference to Antonio’s letter {Function XIII, E2 – “2. The hero answers (or does not answer) a greeting…”} (p.42), and receives suitable letters and clothing which – when later transferred to Portia – permit her eventual liquidation of Antonio’s debt {Function XIV, presumably F1 – “1. The agent is directly transferred…} (p.44)
155Shakespeare, TMoV. III.iv., ll.53-54, p.231.
156Ibid, l.51.
157VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “2. He travels on the ground or on water (G2)… on board a ship [Portia and Nerissa travel to Venice aboard a ship]…” (p.51)
158Shakespeare, TMoV. IV.i., ll.145-146, p.233.
159Ibid, l.169.
160Ibid, ll.307-354, p.234.
161Ibid, l.394, p.235.
162VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “2. They engage in a competition (H2). In humorous tales the fight itself sometimes does not occur. After a squabble…the hero [Portia] and the villain [Shylock] engage in a [legal] competition. The hero wins with the help of cleverness [Portia cleverly disguises herself as a male doctor of law and her judgement goes unchallenged]… 2. He [Shylock] is defeated in a [legal] contest (I2)… 10. A captive is freed (K10) [Antonio is freed from Shylock’s tyranny]…” (pp.52-55)
163Shakespeare, TMoV. IV.i., ll.422-423, p.235.
164Ibid, IV.ii., ll.2-3, p.235.
165VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “Designation: ↓… A return is generally accomplished by means of the same forms as an arrival [i.e. a sea voyage].” (p.55)
166Shakespeare, TMoV. V.i., ll.152-153, p.236.
167Ibid, ll.17-20, p.235.
168Ibid, ll.284-285, p.237.
169VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “Designation: Q… Finally, the hero may be recognized immediately after a long period of separation [Bassanio and Gratiano recognize the dual role played by their wives/legal ministers, Portia and Nerissa]…” (p.62)
170Shakespeare, TMoV. V.i., ll.276-277, p.237.
171Ibid, ll.291-293.
172VP, Morphology [my commentary]: “5. In contrast to the preceding case, a married hero [Bassanio and Gratiano] loses [/is temporarily separated from] his wife [Portia and Nerissa]; the marriage is resumed as the result of a quest (designation for a resumed marriage: w2).” (p.64)
173LJ, Twins and travesties, p.34.
174English Dictionary. Scotland: Geddes & Grosset, 2005, p.76.


English Dictionary. Scotland: Geddes & Grosset, 2005

Jardine, Lisa. ‘Twins and travesties – Gender, dependency and sexual availability in Twelfth Night‘ in S. Zimmerman (ed). Erotic Politics: Desire on the Renaissance Stage. London: Routledge, 1992

Jones, Emrys. Scenic Form In Shakespeare. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971

Propp, Vladimir. Morphology of the Folktale. Texas: University of Texas Press, 2005

Shakespeare, William. ‘The Merchant of Venice’, in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Scotland: Geddes & Grosset, 2002

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Forty-year-old father of three wonderful children [William, Seth, and Alyssa]. Works as an Assistant Technical Officer in the Sterile Services Department of Treliske Hospital, Cornwall. Enjoys jogging, web design, learning programming languages, and supporting Arsenal FC. Obtained a BA degree in English from the University of Bolton in 2008, and has continued to gain qualifications in a diverse range of subjects thereafter.

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