Antonio in Merchant of Venice: Character Traits, Analysis & Quotes
Shakespeare loves a good bromance. In this lesson, we will take a look at Antonio, the wealthy title character from the comedy The Merchant of Venice.
Why is Antonio Sad?
In Act 1, Scene 1, actually the first lines of The Merchant of Venice, Antonio wonders why he's so depressed.
In sooth, I know not why I am so sad:
It wearies me; you say it wearies you;
Antonio is a wealthy merchant. But most of his money is invested in his ships at sea. Even though his wealth may be at risk, he's not worried about his finances. So what else could be bothering him to the point where his buddies are concerned about his depression?
Could it be that Antonio is in love? A better question would be: could it be that Antonio is in love with his best friend Bassanio, who is trying to marry Portia? Shakespeare has a weakness for bromances. We've seen it before with Romeo and Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Horatio in Hamlet and Valentine and Proteus in The Two Gentleman of Verona.
To the Death
We've seen many male Shakespearian characters truly go the distance for their best friends, many of whom were even willing to sacrifice their lives. Antonio is no different. He is loyal and kind and would do anything for Bassanio. And Bassanio needs his financial help in order to marry Portia. Although it seems Antonio will miss his friend if he does get married, he is selfless and wants to help his best buddy find happiness.
But Antonio's money is wrapped up at sea. So he goes to Shylock for a loan, and trust me, there is no love lost between these two. In fact, they hate each other. Yes, Antonio is a very generous man who is willing to swallow his pride and ask Shylock for a loan. But Antonio is not perfect; he's actually a bit of an anti-Semite.
Antonio detests Shylock because he thinks he's being greedy when he charges high interest on his loans. In the past, Antonio has even given his Christian pals interest free loans just so Shylock's business would suffer.
I am as like to call thee so again,
To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too.
If thou wilt lend this money, lend it not
As to thy friends- for when did friendship take
A breed for barren metal of his friend?
A Pound of Flesh
Even though Shylock hates Antonio, he agrees to the loan. But he doesn't want interest in return. Instead, he wants Antonio to put up a pound of his flesh as collateral. And once again, because Antonio loves his best friend and because he is generous; he is willing to risk his life even though his money is not 100% secure because it's floating out at sea.
It is clear that Antonio is literally willing to do anything for Bassanio.
I pray you, good Bassanio, let me know it;
And if it stand, as you yourself still do,
Within the eye of honour, be assur'd
My purse, my person, my extremest means,
Lie all unlock'd to your occasions.
Please Watch Me Suffer
In Act 3, we learn that none of Antonio's ships have returned to port. He cannot repay Shylock's bond with money, so he must give up his life. Meanwhile, Bassanio and the wealthy Portia have just been married.
Antonio sends a letter to Bassanio. He wants to make sure that his friend knows that he has no regrets. Antonio accepts his fate. However, he wishes to see Bassanio before he dies, even though it's his wedding night.
Essentially, Antonio wants to show his friend what he is willing to do for him.
Sweet Bassanio, my ships have all
miscarried, my creditors grow cruel, my estate is
very low, my bond to the Jew is forfeit; and since
in paying it, it is impossible I should live, all
debts are cleared between you and I, if I might but
see you at my death. Notwithstanding, use your
pleasure: if your love do not persuade you to come,
let not my letter.
Wedding night, shmedding night. Bassanio receives the letter and leaves his bride to try and save his friend.
Portia to the Rescue
In the end, it is Portia that saves the day by disguising herself as a lawyer and convincing the court to nullify Shylock's bond. But before she saves Antonio's life, he is more than willing to accept death.
Here, he tells Bassanio not to grieve for him.
Give me your hand, Bassanio: fare you well!
Grieve not that I am fallen to this for you;
For herein Fortune shows herself more kind
Than is her custom: it is still her use
To let the wretched man outlive his wealth,
Portia does get to see where her husband's loyalties lie when Bassanio admits that he would rather trade his own life or the life of his wife for Antonio's (while Portia is in disguise). Then, once again, she witnesses her husband's disloyalty when Bassanio hands over his wedding ring to the disguised Portia in return for her services in court.
Later, when Portia confronts Bassanio about the missing ring, she tells him that perhaps she will seek out this lawyer and sleep with him. She feels that if Bassanio can break their marriage vows, then she should be able to do so as well. But because Antonio is a selfless guy, he offers up his soul in a pledge that Bassanio will remain faithful to Portia forever.
I once did lend my body for his wealth;
Which, but for him that had your husband's ring,
Had quite miscarried: I dare be bound again,
My soul upon the forfeit, that your lord
Will never more break faith advisedly.
Shakespeare loves a good bromance. Antonio and Bassanio are truly best buddies. Antonio may or may not have a romantic interest in his pal, but he knows that the two will only ever be friends. Antonio is ultimately generous, selfless and brave. He is willing to sacrifice his life so that his friend can find happiness with Portia.
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