Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Fortuna and The Wheel of Fortune

With me I hope Luck, Fate, and Fortune will come knocking at my door. Oh please!
But in life you can only hope for the best and want the best for others.
Be supportive where you can and let them know your door is open!

~~~~~Fortuna & The Wheel of Fortune
In The Merchant of Venice, Portia, an affluent and quick-witted heiress from 
Belmont, aids in rescuing Antonio from his legal plight with Shylock. 
The fates of people around Portia shift constantly, while her situation generally 
improves without problem. Portia’s actions through the play embody Fortuna’s 
whimsical interest in humanity.

In order to compare Portia and Fortuna, we need a little background on
this mythical figure and her famous wheel. In Roman mythology, Fortuna was the
goddess of Luck, Fate, and Fortune. She watched over the fate of the individual as well
as the state. In her left hand, Fortuna usually held a cornucopia, a symbol of all
good things flowing in abundance. In the other hand, Fortuna held a ship’s rudder,
which implied her power to steer the delicate lives of mortals. By using both objects,
she was able to either bring happiness to the person’s life, or completely destroy the
 individual’s life instead.

Associated with Fortuna was her Rota Fortunae (Latin for “wheel of fortune”), which
was a medieval concept that involved the use of a wheel that a person symbolically rode
during his or her life. At the top of the wheel, a person’s lifestyle was full of happiness
and leisure. A individual at this level would live like a king. However, the wheel would
eventually rotate and the person would begin to endure  a miserable existence, full of pain
and tragedy. Someone at the bottom hoped that Fortuna would eventually spin her wheel
often enough for the individual to come back on top, both metaphorically and financially.

Portia, true to her allegorical figure, jumps at the opportunity to rescue Antonio
from Shylock during the trial scene, spotting it as a situation where she can spin her
metaphorical wheel and dramatically alter the fates of the people involved.
By indirectly offering to pay more than triple the amount Bassiano borrowed from
Shylock, Portia’s act symbolizes the cornucopia in Fortuna’s left hand.
The parallel between Portia and Fortuna also shows up in the last scene of the play.
After revealing that she had been the lawyer during the trial in Venice, Portia hands
Antonio a sealed letter:

“Unseal this letter soon; There you shall found three of your argosies,
Are richly come to harbor suddenly. You shall not know by what strange accident,
I chanced on this letter.” (V.I.295-297)

Portia claims to have discovered the news herself without any external help,
which leads me to see a further connection between her and the concept of Fortuna.
Antonio, whose ships disappeared through fortune, is finally rewarded with the return of
his ships after the terrible trial with Shylock. Maybe Fortuna’s wheels rotated even
more for Antonio, elevating him to an even higher level of wealth because his ships came
back to harbor. Like the rudder in Fortuna’s hands, Portia’s letter embodies Fortuna’s
jurisdiction over a mortal’s life.