April, Shakespeare's birth (and death) month seems an appropriate time to launch our new series - A Street By Any Other Name. It's no secret Stratford's street names all relate back to the works of Shakespeare, a tradition dating back to 1878 when the then chairman of the Taranaki Waste Lands Board, Charles Whitcombe, gave instructions that all future streets in the town should have names connected to the works of William Shakespeare. In this regular column, editor Ilona Hanne will talk about the Shakespearean characters and references behind Stratford's street names. This week she explores the literary references behind the names of Portia and Regan.
"The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath." Part of a monologue by Portia, William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act 4, Scene 1.
Portia is a main character in the Merchant of Venice. A wealthy, beautiful and intelligent heiress, she is bound by specific terms of her late father's will when it comes to marriage.
Any potential suitor, the will decrees, will have to solve a riddle first. The suitors are given a choice of three caskets, one gold, one silver and one made of lead. If they solve the riddle and so choose the correct casket, they win her hand in marriage. If they choose the wrong casket, however, not only do they not win Portia's hand, but they must also leave and never marry in their lifetime.
Portia is more than just a girl waiting for a suitor to choose the correct casket however, she is a strong intelligent woman, and that intelligence is put to good use as the play continues.
Portia's successful suitor, Bassanio, is a young Venetian man who asks his friend Antonio, a merchant, for a loan so he can travel to Belmont and seek Portia's hand in marriage.
Antonio doesn't have enough money to loan Bassanio, but sends him to borrow the money from a moneylender by the name of Shylock.
Instead of charging interest, seemingly as a kind of joke, Shylock asks for a pound of Antonio's flesh if the loan isn't repaid within three months.
With the loan secured, Bassanio sets off and successfully wins the hand of Portia. A few months later Portia, disguised as a lawyer by the name of Balthazar, successfully defeats Shylock in court where he has tried to claim the pound of flesh after Antonio failed to repay the loan in time.
"Sir, I am made Of the self same metal that my sister is, And prize me at her worth. In my true heart, I find she names my very deed of love; Only she comes too short, that I profess Myself an enemy to all other joys, Which the most precious square of sense possesses, And find I am alone felicitate In your dear highness' love." Regan's declaration of love for her father in King Lear, Act 1, Scene 1
While Portia is a strong, intelligent woman, Regan can claim no such glory. The second of three daughters to the titular king in King Lear, Regan is ruthless, aggressive and enjoys torturing the Earl of Gloucester a little too much to make her anything but a sadistic villain.
She competes with her older sister, Goneril, to convince her father to hand his kingdom over to her, and also competes with Goneril when it comes to winning the love of the Earl of Gloucester's illegitimate son, Edmund.
Despite her declaration of love for him, King Lear finds out too late that her words meant nothing when she casts him out into a stormy night after he arrives at her home seeking shelter. Regan and her husband torture the Earl of Gloucester, who they say betrayed them, with Regan plucking out his beard hairs before her husband gouges out the Earl's eyes. A servant moves to stop the torture, but Regan draws a sword and murders the servant.
Regan herself dies at the hands of her sister Goneril, who is competing with her sister for the love of Edmund. Desperate to prevent Regan from winning Edmund's love, Goneril puts poison in her sister's drink and kills her. Regan isn't the only one to die in the final scenes of this tragedy, both her sisters also die, as does Edmund and the tragic king himself, Lear.
Don't forget - all things Shakespearean are being celebrated in Stratford on Saturday, April 24. See www.facebook.com/stratfordshakespearetrust for more details.