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In Act III Scene 2 of The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare,

Portia : One half of me is yours, the other half yours. Mine own, I would say; but if mine then yours.

Roughly translated it means "One half of me is yours, and the other half—my own half, I’d call it—belongs to you too. If it’s mine, then it’s yours, and so I’m all yours."

Why doesn't Portia directly say that she totally belongs to Bassanio? Why take this "curved route" to end up at the same place ?

  • Hehe. You have to do a whole essay on just that line!?? – Beastly Gerbil Apr 11 '17 at 16:10
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    @BeastlyGerbil the essay is about whole Scene. Our teacher wants us to mention, in the essay, why Portia uses these words. – Imaginary Pumpkin Apr 11 '17 at 16:12
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    @Shashwat if this is an essay assignment, then I'm pretty sure your teacher wants you to figure this out on your own. You can ask your teacher for help if you are confused. However, if someone writes an answer to this question, and you incorporate the answer into your essay without giving credit, then that's plagiarism and could get you into a lot of trouble. And even if you give credit, your teacher might not want you to use outside sources, and might not like it that you posted one of their questions online. – user111 Apr 11 '17 at 16:46
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    Perhaps take a look at this (cc @Hamlet)? – Mithical Apr 11 '17 at 17:32
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First of all, let's take a look at the wider context around this line:

Beshrew your eyes,
They have o'erlook'd me and divided me;
One half of me is yours, the other half yours,
Mine own, I would say; but if mine, then yours,
And so all yours. O, these naughty times
Put bars between the owners and their rights!
And so, though yours, not yours.

-- The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 2, Lines 14-20

She's already talking about being divided before she starts on the "one half yours" thing. I'm not completely sure what she means by being overlooked and divided, but presumably it's a reference to the way her father's will allows her only to marry a man who chooses the right casket. Thus, if she fell in love with anyone who didn't choose correctly, she would be divided between love and duty.

Thus, the concept of her being divided is already on the table, hence this particular roundabout way of "saying without saying" that she has feelings for him.

But why does she say it in such a roundabout way at all? Because she doesn't want to admit that she loves him. At this point, he hasn't "won" her yet by passing the Trial by Casket, so in some sense she isn't "allowed" to love him. Earlier on she says (lines 4-6, emphasis mine):

There's something tells me, but it is not love,
I would not lose you; and you know yourself,
Hate counsels not in such a quality.

She's denying, perhaps even to herself, that she loves him. She dares not admit it at this stage, for fear of having her heart broken if he chooses wrongly. Thus the convoluted and obfuscated language.

(Also, as someone mentioned in comments, it wouldn't be Shakespeare without some nice flowery verbiage!)

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It will be hard to get anything from it on its own, you probably need to take a step back and see it compared to the rest of the scene, and really in contrast to the play.

There's a few points I'd put down if I was writing an essay on this. I'll bullet-point and explain. I'm currently in Year 9/Grade 8, and my English teacher always goes on about PEE paragraphs (Point Evidence Explanation). I will bullet point the points, the evidence is obviously the quote, and then I'll explain:

I'll start with what I think is the strongest point:

  • It shows he makes her whole

    I think the biggest point here, would be that two halves make a whole. One half she has said already belongs to him, but now her own half does too, she is whole again. She is almost saying that he makes her whole. He brings her together.

And now a few other points:

  • It emphasises her love

    If she had simply said "I'm all yours", that isn't as effective. By basically splitting herself in two, and saying that one half already belongs to him, but now the other does too, it shows how much she loves him.

  • It shows she is flustered

    Portia is one of the characters who is a higher intellectual in the play. She is usually in control, quite calm and with the upper hand, but here, she is almost incoherent. It shows she is eager to express her feelings and that she can hardly find the right words to say. She interrupts and corrects herself a lot in the full speech which shows she is completely smitten with Bassanio. It's like she's a young girl asking someone out, and forgetting all her words and being completely flustered about the whole things.

  • It shows she is fully committed to Bassanio

    She is almost granting him ownership of her. She is giving herself to him and this shows her trust and respect for him. She is willing to give everything that belongs to her to him. Only someone who truly and completely loves someone would do something like this.

Hope that helps.

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    Sorry, I've downvoted this answer because, although it does make some interesting points about Portia's character, it misses the main point: at this stage, she is not, and cannot be, fully committed to him. Until he's passed the Trial by Casket, she dare not express her feelings for him. That's why she's flustered and stammering, not (or at least not only) because she's smitten with him. – Rand al'Thor Apr 11 '17 at 20:35
  • @Randal'Thor sorry casket? What's the 'Trial be casket?' (I haven't read the play, just the scene, if it's something to do with that, and if it is then that's probably why I missed the point you mention) – Beastly Gerbil Apr 11 '17 at 21:02
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    Well, if you haven't read the play, how do you expect to be able to answer questions about it in view of the wider context and character analysis? :-) The Trial by Casket is what this scene is all about, and a major detail of the play as a whole - it's how Portia must be wooed and won. If you don't know about that, then I'm afraid all your commentary on the Portia-Bassanio relationship is suspect. – Rand al'Thor Apr 12 '17 at 0:07
  • @Randal'Thor I just googled the scene and went from there! I got a brief character summary of each, but the casket thing wasn't mentioned. Perhaps I should have googled a play summary as well... – Beastly Gerbil Apr 12 '17 at 9:44
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I think Portia is willingly giving herself to Bassanio. She says that 'one half' of herself belongs to him, and the 'second half' (her share of herself) also belongs to him simply because she was his all along.

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    Welcome to Literature Stack Exchange! I think you have the beginning of a good answer. Can you please improve it a bit by taking more of the context into account? – IkWeetHetOokNiet Aug 23 '18 at 11:31

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