The Importance of Disguise in “The Merchant of Venice”

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The Importance of Disguise in the Merchant of Venice
The Importance of Disguise in the Merchant of Venice
Disguise is a literary device in plays that involves altering or changing the character’s appearance to conceal or hide the character’s identity. The device of disguise plays an essential role in human interaction and development of a play. Disguise is an important device because it allows a character to be someone he/she is not and do things they normally cannot do. Shakespeare, in his play Merchant of Venice, utilizes the device of disguise on characters such as Jessica, Portia, and Nerissa.
The device of disguise is first used in Act II by Jessica, the Shylock’s daughter. Jessica is in love with Lorenzo but cannot her Jewish father forbids her from marrying Lorenzo because he is a Christian. Jessica escapes her father’s house by cross-dressing as a torchbearer. She disguises herself as Lorenzo’s torchbearer and deceives the guards who do not recognize her (Halio, p.63). Through deception she is able to achieve her motives, she escapes with Lorenzo, marries and gets converted to Christianity. Jessica’s decision angers the Shylock who seeks to claim revenge on Christians.
The device is also used in Act IV by Portia and Nerissa who disguise themselves as a lawyer and a law clerk in order to rescue Antonio. Portia cross-dresses as a man and plays the role of a doctor of law by the name Balthazar in the court of Duke. Portia’s servant, Nerissa also disguises herself as a law clerk and accompanies Portia to the courtroom (Halio, p.65). In their disguised roles, Portia and Nerissa try to convince Shylock to show mercy and drop the charges against Antonio. Portia approaches her husband and asks for his ring which he gives without recognizing her real identity. The two women use disguise to win the case against the shylock and rescue Antonio. The two manages to deceive the Duke and their husbands, but they later reveal their true identity to their husbands at the end of the play (Iyengar, p.21).
Shakespeare’s play shows the significance of disguise in human expression. The device assists the characters to express themselves adequately. The female characters in an attempt to achieve their goals disguised themselves as a male lawyer and clerk because at that time such roles were performed by the male. By dressing in in male clothes and deceiving men, the women characters felt they had assumed the power and position denied to them as women. The plays signify that people will do whatever it takes to achieve their goals and objectives.

Work Cited
Halio, Jay L. “The Merchant of Venice (review).” Shakespeare Bulletin 24.2 (2006): 63-68.
Iyengar, R. Venkatesan. “The Disguised Heroines of Shakespeare.” IUP Journal of English Studies 9.4 (2014): 21.

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