This year I'm devoting February to my favorite fictional romantic gestures. Many of these are sweet, and many are downright crazy. Plenty are both.
(Disclaimer: I've actually never seen Say Anything, so don't hold your breath for the big boom box moment while counting down my far stranger selections.)
In the number five spot, we've got inarguably the strangest entry of all, the trial from Merchant of Venice.
If you haven't read or seen it, here's how it goes:
Bassanio wants to marry Portia, an heiress whose dead father has read too many fairytales and decreed that she can only marry a man who correctly guesses one of three caskets. Bassanio borrows money from his "best friend," Antonio,
And that isn't even the romantic gesture that puts this play on the list.
Bassanio seems like the least dickish of Portia's suitors, so she and her servants rig the game for him, and they get married. Then Antonio gets word he's lost his money at sea, and Shylock's coming to collect.
Portia catches on pretty quickly to what she's gotten herself into and decides to do the nice thing and bail Antonio out, but it's too late, Shylock won't take the late money and demands his legal right to cut his pound of flesh out of Antonio’s chest.
Or, more likely in sweet, feminine, Elizabethan style, "Sorry, I tried, and maybe you’ll grow to love me if I'm the one who’s here for you through this."
But no, not Portia. What does she do? She dresses up as a man, passes herself off as a lawyer from out of town, and saves Antonio's ass on a questionable technicality in open court. And she doesn't tell Bassanio her plan in advance, so the whole time she's monologueing passionately about the quality of mercy, she has to watch the two of them fawning over each other with the kind of fervor imminent death tends to inspire.
But she doesn't back down. She only checks to see if maybe, possibly, Bassanio might care about her for more than her money too, by giving him a ring as herself and then demanding it as payment in her lawyer guise.
He's reluctant, but he hands it over, staying as ambiguous and noncommittal as all his attention to her has been so far. So Portia confronts him as herself and makes it clear, in her lawyerly way, that if he can't prioritize her love from now on, he can't expect her fidelity. That's all, fair and simple. And then she tells him what she did.
Knowing the whole story, Bassanio chooses Portia... leaving poor Antonio, who would have died to buy him happiness, alone, and Shylock, who was only acting out a revenge fantasy cultivated by a lifetime of religious persecution, ruined and destitute.
Okay, it's far from the most aww-worthy gesture on this list (don't worry, there's plenty of aww coming up this month), but I can't help loving its bizarre uniqueness. When asked "how did you win your spouse's heart?”, I don't think any of us can say we cross-dressed to save our romantic rival from being publicly gutted by his loan shark through Johnny Cochran-esque court drama audacity.
Agree? Disagree? Comments are always welcome! Or keep up with my fictional musings by joining me on Facebook, on Twitter, or by signing up for email updates in the panel on the right!