Antonio Essay, Research Paper


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


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