top of page

9 of Crowns - Portia

Dramatis Personae: Portia.

Text & Context: The name Portia derives from the Roman clan name Porcius, which cognates to "pig". Bassanio likens Portia to Porcia Catonis - "nothing undervalued to Cato’s daughter" - the devoted wife of Brutus who stabbed herself in the leg to admonish her husband before killing herself by swallowing hot coals. The name's port component is friendly cognate with "port", as in door, haven, ford. Por may be an ironic pun on "poor", while -tia is an abstract noun suffix akin to "hood" indicating rank.

 Portia is a kind of ideal of Beauty. She is a beautiful young woman sitting in the beautiful mansion Belmont on a fortune not just a gold-digger like Bassanio would deem beautiful. An heiress of immense wealth, she is obliged to secure a husband through a ludicrous system of lottery devised by her late father. That the elaborate game of pinochle is played with caskets is surely one of Shakespeare's more telling if macabre jests. That Portia herself would subvert the premise of such a lottery is not surprising, but why she would do so in Bassanio's favour remains moot. The answer may be no more complicated than simple genetic selection compounded with the ease with which an intelligent woman like Portia may maintain dominion over a man of base mettle such as Bassanio. Numismaticly, coins for centuries have utilized base metal as constituent of their alloy. As for higher aspirations such as transmutation, Portia may be something of a hopeful alchemist.


 Along with the counterfeit of Portia in the lead casket is a slip of paper inscribed, "Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath.” As noted in the Cups 4 card, this hazard pertains to Antonio and Shylock, not Bassanio, but it also pertains to a degree to Portia herself. Once wed, all she owns - her purse and her person - will be her husband's. By leading as witnessed in the lottery, it is she who chooses Bassanio. Her manipulation of the Law, the Court of Law, and Shylock himself is testament to her greater mastery. Here, in the 9 of Crowns card, Portia holds in the palm of her hand herself as the shyster lawyer Balthazar - variant of Belshazzar, the Babylonian King who oppressed his Jewish subjects. Perhaps of note, Belteshazzar was the new name given to Daniel, chosen for his intellect and beauty to be trained in the Babylonian court. Paralleling Shylock, Belteshazzar refused to eat with his betters for fear of being defiled.


 Meanwhile, the business with the rings clinches what in the jargon of falconry is called "hacking". Traditionally, the lady of the 9 of Crowns card holds a tiercel, a hood enclosing his head, jesses about his feet. Tiercel is French for three - 3 caskets, 3 argos, 3 marriages, 3000 ducats; Bassanio's men are essentially hoods, cf. "Now, by my hood, a Gentile and no Jew." - a pun, typical of Gratiano, on his foreskin, and in reference to Jessica [jess]. Hence, oblique correspondence can be glimpsed here with the bird of prey traditionally seen on the Tarot's Emperor card and the sometime title of The Magician card: The Bataleur. Bataleur is French for "street performer", combining two aspects of the Magician - entertainer and mountebank - while a bataleur is also a mid-sized eagle. Portia, then, has trained Bassanio on the one hand to soar the heir of Belmont while, on the other, has pulled off slights of hand with the lottery, Shylock's family jewels, the Law, and the Christian notion of Mercy.


Intertext: Knight of Crowns Jessica; Cups 4 Antonio; Justice XI Shylock.

bottom of page