Antonio in Merchant of Venice: Character Traits, Analysis & Quotes

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  • 0:01 Antonio's Dilemma
  • 1:10 Shylock's Loan
  • 2:47 Pound of Flesh
  • 3:24 Antonio Defaults
  • 4:29 Portia to the Rescue
  • 5:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ann Casano

Ann has taught university level Film classes and has a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies.

In this lesson, we'll take a look at Antonio, the title character from the tragicomedy, ''The Merchant of Venice''. While exploring one of William Shakespeare's most famous 'bromances,' we'll analyze Antonio's character, especially in terms of a fateful business agreement.

Antonio's Dilemma

In Act 1, Scene 1 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. However, most of his money is invested in his ships at sea. But even though his wealth may be at risk, he's not worried about his finances. So, what else could be bothering Antonio to the point where his buddies are concerned about his depression?

Could it be that Antonio is in love? With his best friend? Antonio's best friend is Bassanio, who wants to marry Portia.

In several of his comedies and tragedies, William Shakespeare demonstrated a weakness for literary bromances; in fact, he may have invented them. For instance, Romeo's friendship with Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet's relationship with Horatio in Hamlet and Valentine's relationship with Proteus in The Two Gentleman of Verona are all examples of Shakespearian bromances.

Shylock's Loan

In Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet and The Two Gentlemen of Verona, we find male characters that are more than willing to go the distance for their best friends, even to the point of sacrificing their lives. Antonio is no different. He is loyal and kind and would do anything for Bassanio. In The Merchant of Venice, Bassanio needs Antonio's financial help in order to marry Portia, a wealthy heiress.

Although Antonio will most likely miss Bassanio if he gets married, he's also selfless and wants to help his best buddy find happiness. However, since Antonio's money is wrapped up at sea, he cannot give Bassanio the money directly. He agrees to back the moneylender Shylock's loan to Bassanio.

Shylock is the antagonist, or adversary, in the play. Antonio and Shylock hate each other. While Antonio is a very generous man who is willing to swallow his pride, he's also a bit of an anti-Semite, or someone who dislikes or is prejudicial against Jews.

Antonio detests Shylock because he thinks he's being greedy when he loans money at high-interest rates. In the past, Antonio has even given his Christian pals interest-free loans just so Shylock's business would suffer, as shown in this excerpt from the play:

'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?'

Pound of Flesh

Even though Shylock hates Antonio, he agrees to make good on Bassanio's loan, should the latter default. Instead of charging Bassanio interest, Shylock wants Antonio to put up a pound of his own flesh as collateral. Antonio agrees, which reflects his generosity towards Bassanio:

'I pray you, good Bassanio, let me know it;
And if it stands, 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.'

Antonio Defaults

In Act 3, we learn that none of Antonio's ships have returned to port. As Antonio cannot repay Shylock's bond with money, he must give up his pound of flesh, or life.

Antonio sends a letter to Bassanio, who has just married Portia. Antonio wants to make sure that his friend knows that he has no regrets about his agreement with Shylock and accepts his fate. However, Antonio wishes to see Bassanio one more time before he dies, even though it's the latter's wedding night:

'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.'

When Bassanio receives the letter, he leaves his bride and tries to save his friend.

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