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

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.

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.

Shakespeare Loved a Good Bromance

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 Disapproves of Shylock
Merchant of Venice

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.

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