Questions for Portia’s Puzzle

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This is an extract from our story, Portia's Puzzle which is based on a scene from Shakespeare's play, The Merchant of Venice. Listen to the extract and answer the questions.


Word of Portia’s beauty had spread to every corner of the world, and men, young and old, tall and short, fat, thin, pale, tanned, handsome, ugly, charming, rude, pretty much men of every variety flocked to her town, fair Belmont, to meet her.

It was after a day of meeting and greeting that she finally managed to have some time alone with her maid, Nerissa.

“Did you really not take a shining to any of the young lads?” asked Nerissa.

“It’s not up to me, is it?,” replied Portia, “This has got to be the most random way of choosing a husband ever.”

“Portia! Do you really have such little faith in your father?” responded Nerissa, and then she said more softly, and slyly…”Supposing that young Bassanio turned up…. I know you thought he was a nice lad”

“Him ! Oh yes, well he was, I admit, rather nice…. for a man… but he’s not been here for at least two years.”

“Well you never know..” said the serving girl. “Anyway what did you think of today’s batch?”

“You’ll have to remind me of them – I saw so many!”

Nerissa drew out a scroll from her apron pocket. Unrolling it, she said,

“First there was the Neapolitan, what did you make of him?”

“Oh him!” sighed Portia, “All he did was talk about his horse and how wonderful it was,” To amuse her companion, she did an impression of him: “It runs so fast, it jumps so high, oh and his teeth!” and “oh his coat!” and “I must tell you about his neck…!”

“No, you’re right!” Nerissa cut in. Portia laughed.

“I think he was starting to look a bit like a horse!” Portia added.

“Well, then there was the Roman.” said Nerissa.

“Goodness he was a misery guts! He didn’t laugh at a single joke. And before you say anything, my jokes aren’t that bad!… Oh yes he said to me,
“What’s the point of beauty in the world when everything decays…? If he’s like that as a young man imagine what he’ll be like when he’s older.
I’d rather marry a skull – it’d have a better sense of humour!”

“Next was Monsieur Le Bon, The French lord.” said Nerissa, looking down the list of suitors.

“Monsieur Le Bon! I’d never met anyone like him before, or like “them” I should say!”

“Sorry?” inquired Nerissa.

“He was certainly more than one person. He kept becoming different personalities. One minute he was dancing on his own (to no music), the next he was fencing his own shadow: ‘Don’t you think for one moment you will get away you pesky little shadow. -But it is me, Monsieur Le Bon. Non! I am Monsieur Le bon. -This cannot be! Aha – I have surprised you! Oh non! Mais oui! Oh non!’ I think he is all the company he will ever need. If I did marry him, I’d be marrying twenty husbands!”

“So that’s Italy and France crossed off the list! What did you make of that nice young man from England?” asked Nerissa.

“Falconbridge? He was lovely to look at, but it was hopeless. He spoke no Latin, French or Italian and you know how ropey my English is. There’s little conversation to be had with a mime artist! And as for his outfit, he was dressed in such a strange way. Certainly a man of international style – he was wearing an Italian jacket, French trousers, and a German hat – it was peculiar!”

“Speaking of Germans, how did you like the Duke of Saxony?”

“I didn’t like him very much in the morning when he was sober, but it only got worse in the afternoon when he was drunk!”

“Oh well you needn’t worry, love. When they heard about the text, they all decided they weren’t up to it and will be leaving Belmont tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow, a new day, and a new hoard of visitors will arrive!” , Portia sighed.

Why was Portia meeting all these men?
Discuss whether or not Portia’s decisions – choose 2 – were sound.
Where does the Neapolitan come from?

Vocabulary & Grammar

  1. “Did you really not take a shining to any of the young lads?”
    What does take a shining to mean?
    (a)recognize (b) know (c) like (d) dislike
  2. “I didn’t like him very much in the morning when he was sober...
    What is the other meaning of sober ?
    (a) silly (b) serious (c ) soporific (d) superior
  3. “Anyway what did you think of today’s batch?”
    What is another word for batch ?
    patch (b) bitch (c ) botch (d)group
  4. “He didn’t laugh X a single joke...”
    What is the missing word?
    on (b) with (c) to (d) at
  5. “There’s little conversation to be had with a mime X !”
    What is the missing word?
    artist (b) hurry (c) so (d) careful
  6. Assignments

    Discuss whether parents are better placed to choose a husband or wife for their children, or if the children should choose. Give your reasons.

    Are first impressions are important to you when you meet people? When are first impressions important and when are they less important?

    Who influences you when you make a decision? Discuss who influences you for what, whether you would like to change this, and how you will achieve this.