Article Title

"Nothing Undervalued to Cato's Daughter": Plutarch's Porcia in the Shakespeare Canon


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Shakespeare's first mention of Portia in The Merchant of Venice makes a pointed comment on her name and its source: she is

Of wondrous virtues...

Her name is Portia, nothing undervalued

To Cato's daughter, Brutus; Portia.1

These lines are an explicit invitation to place Bassanio's Portia side by side with the Porcia of Plutarch's "Life of Marcus Brutus" - and, by extension, to place her side by side with the Portia Shakespeare had not yet portrayed when he wrote these lines, Brutus' Portia in Julius Caesar. No one, so far as I know, has ever accepted that invitation.2 If we do accept it we may perceive an extraordinary correlation between Shakespeare's two Portias, a correlation that suggests an interpretation of The Merchant of Venice. Furthermore, when we once free ourselves from the assumption that the "Life of Marcus Brutus" was important to Shakespeare only mechanically and immediately, in the composition of Julius Caesar, we may enter a path of investigation that will show Shakespeare's continuing interest in Plutarch's Porcia through many years and some five works in the canon. Examining Shakespeare's several responses to the character and situation of Marcus Brutus' wife may throw light on his attitude toward marriage and on his conception of possibility in his sources.

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