Notes on The Trial of Antonio Part Six
The six-part summer special draws to a close this week, as Portia and Nerissa look back on what has come to pass and find that things are not quite as simple as they would like.
The final panel was the starting point for this whole storyline. Portia as I’ve written her is a character who belongs in a light and fluffy comedy. In the play in her head, the boys get the girls after the zany scheme is a fantastic success, then they all have a bit of a dance. But The Merchant of Venice is sadly not that play, and an uncertain future waits for her.
I felt that after six weeks living in the world of The Merchant of Venice, it would be remiss of me not to have the cartoon touch on its more problematic elements. I was very pleased to realise that Nerissa does not join in with the climactic outbreak of jew-bashing, giving me license to have her disapprove in her usual no-nonsense manner. To be honest, her silence in the play is because she is both a servant and a woman, and therefore lucky to have any lines at all, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that many directors and actresses have opted to have her spending the trial scene fuming in silent anger.
On a more trivial note, one thing I’ve wanted to draw for a while is Nerissa straining to lace Portia into her dress, because, let’s face it, Portia’s waist is ridiculous. Her corset must be a triumph of renaissance-era engineering.
Looking back on these characters’ run in the series, I remember that when I first came up with a cartoon for them, I wanted more of a Blackadder the Third dynamic, with Nerissa barely disguising her contempt for her foolish mistress. I changed it at the last minute to make Nerissa more indulgent, and I’m so glad I did this – Portia is an infuriating person to have around, but beneath her impatience, Nerissa is genuinely fond of her. Their odd friendship is a much better foundation for a larger story than the combative relationship I originally conceived, and I hope to give them another extended storyline further down the road – although this is probably something for act three…