Antonio is a wealthy merchant in the city of Venice. Although central to the play, Antonio is portrayed by Shakespeare as an 'outcast'. It seems that Antonio is chronically depressed and is not involved in the social atmosphere that is thriving in Venice. -
"In sooth, I know not why I am so sad:
It wearies me; you say it wearies you;
But how I caught it. Found it, or came by it,
What stuff 'tis made of, whereof it is born,
I am to learn:"1
Along with Shylock, both men seem bitter and have difficulty in expressing their emotions. On many occasions friends, such as Salerio and Bassanio have questioned his sadness, trying to find an explanation for their great unhappiness with themselves and with the world. -
Salerio: "But tell not me: I know Antonio
Is sad to think upon his merchandise.2
Antonio: "Believe me, no: I thank my fortune for it,
My ventures are not in one bottom trusted,
Nor to one place; nor is my whole estate
Upon the fortune of this present year:
Therefore, my merchandise makes me not sad."3
Salanio: "Why, then are you in love."4
Antonio: "Fie, fie!"5
The mystery of Antonio's sadness remains, as he dismisses the prospect that his sadness is related to his ships or a lost love. Uninterested in the 'world' of suitors and marriage, Antonio is left without his lifelong companion, Bassanio after he travelled to Belmont to woo Portia.
Early in the play another side of Antonio is revealed. Antonio is displayed as a hard cruel man, although a Christian, he displays hatred and contempt towards the Jewish race, usurers and especially towards Shylock. After kicking and spitting upon Shylock, Antonio shows no remorse or sympathy for the man he has abused. Antonio even goes to the point of saying that he would once more spit upon him and kick him like a stray dog. -
"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?
But lend it rather to thine enemy;
Who if he break, thou may'st with better face
Exact the penalty."6
Many people would ask the question, why would someone in Shylock's position want to give anything to a person who has treated them as badly as Antonio? However, under the interest free bond that Shylock has created with Antonio lies a need for revenge so great that Shylock will do anything to take the life of Antonio.
At the beginning of Act 3 the bad news of Antonio's ships, lost at sea is spreading around Venice. Jessica confirms that Shylock will be maintaining the bond that was created now that Antonio has no way of paying back the bond. -
"When I was with him, I have heard him swear
To tubal and to Chus, his countrymen,
That he would rather have Antonio's flesh
Than twenty times the value of the sum
That he did owe him; and I know, my lord,
If law, authority, and power deny not,
It will go hard with poor Antonio."7
With the realisation that Antonio's death is imminent, Antonio, like someone with a terminal illness gives up all hope of survival. Most people would fight literally for their lives against Shylock, but Antonio had progressed beyond sadness and had lost his will to live. Antonio's immediate acceptance of Shylock's bizarre bond signals the secret 'death wish' that Antonio holds very close to his heart. Antonio's sudden wish to die, brought about through great sadness and loneliness is affecting Bassanio greatly, who takes responsibility for what has happened. -
"Antonio, I am married to a wife
Which is dear to me as life itself;
But life itself, my wife, and all the world,
Are not with me esteem'd above thy life:
I would lose all, ay, sacrifice them all,
Here to this devil, to deliver you"8
A moment of comedy is brought out after this speech through Portia
(Bassanio's wife), posing as a Doctor of Laws. -
"Your wife would give you little thanks of that,
If she were by to hear you make the offer."9
During the courtroom scene Portia and Nerissa undertake their daring plan to save Antonio. As Shylock is preparing to cut Antonio's heart from his body, a death which by this time Antonio freely excepts Portia reminds Shylock of the intricacies of the bond he made with Antonio. Shylock must cut exactly a pound of flesh from Antonio, not an ounce less, not an ounce more. He also must not create one drop of Christian blood. Shylock becomes very nervous and simply asks Antonio for the money he owes him. Portia, the lawyer declines this offer and Shylock attempts to flee the courtroom. Portia detains him and then reminds him of another law. One must never conspire to kill another Venetian. Shylock is a defeated man, his dreams of revenge shattered. Shylock is forced to give Antonio one half of all his goods, which will be passed on to Lorenzo at Shylock's death and Shylock must leave everything he owns in his will to Jessica and Lorenzo. The final condition was that Shylock becomes a Christian.
These events gave Antonio a new view of life. The final revelation in Antonio's character is seen. From the 'suicidal' man filled with sadness and sorrow Antonio is reformed into the successful merchant he once was when his ships returned from sea laden with goods. However, the only sadness for Antonio is that he has been deprived of the chance to sacrifice himself as a gesture of his true nobility.
1 Merchant Of Venice. Act 1, Scene 1. Lines 1-5 - Antonio.
2 Merchant Of Venice. Act 1, Scene 1. Lines 39-40 - Salerio.
3 Merchant Of Venice. Act 1, Scene 1. Lines 41-45 - Antonio.
4 Merchant Of Venice. Act 1, Scene 1. Line 46 - Salanio.
5 Merchant Of Venice. Act 1, Scene 1. Line 47 - Antonio.
6 Merchant Of Venice. Act 1, Scene 3. Lines 126-133 - Antonio
7 Merchant Of Venice. Act 3, Scene 2. Lines 123-189 - Jessica
8 Merchant Of Venice. Act 4, Scene 1. Lines 280-285 - Bassanio
9 Merchant Of Venice. Act 4, Scene 1. Lines 286-287 - Portia/Doctor of