What does Antonio and Bassanio's friendship reveal about their characters?
Discuss the relationship between Antonio and Bassanio. What does their friendship reveal about their characters?
Antonio and Bassanio are very good friends becomes clear right from the initial scenes. Whatever slight doubt is there gets cleared by the end. Throughout the drama, the two friends are dearer than life to each other. Their love and trust for each other are evident at every stage of the drama. Each one of the two is ready to go to any extent to serve and help the other. It is visible that Bassanio is less a friend and more a brother to Antonio.
“Within the eye of honor,
be assured My purse,
my person, my extremest means
Lie all unlocked to your occasions.”
Merchant of Venice. Act 1 Scene 1.
Antonio lets Bassanio use his money like it's his own. He does not differentiate between himself and his friend. Bassanio has no money and he has been living in debt which he plans to repay. He also feels embarrassed over the large sums he has been borrowing from Antonio. However, Antonio’s money is tied in the cargo which is still at sea. So, he asks Bassanio to borrow from anyone in Venice in his name and go and see Portia. Bassanio has to do little to persuade his friend for money. Antonio is already more than willing to lend him. This proves Antonio’s selflessness and that he considers Bassanio a brother.
Another proof of Antonio and Bassanio's deep friendship comes in scene 3 of Act 1 when the two are before Shylock to ask him for a loan. Shylock is surprised at his luck that how destiny has brought the two of his worst enemies in Venice to his doors seeking help. The greedy Jewish moneylender reminds them of how bad Antonio has been to him in the past. He would call Shylock's business practices unfair, spit on him, and kick him. He is still willing to lend them the three thousand ducats. Shylock does not want to let this opportunity of exacting revenge from Antonio go. However, he is ready to lend them money only on the condition that given Antonio fails to repay; he would lose a pound of flesh from his body as Shylock wills. Antonio knows that his friend needs the money and tells the Jew that had the situation been different, he would have treated him just as he always does. It shows his stubbornness and proves that inside his heart, Antonio is innocent and a little childish. Had it not been so, he would have been able to avoid the trap Shylock had set. For his friend's sake, he is willing to accept the Jew's offer and also ready to change his attitude towards Jews in the future.
Antonio is doing it all for his friend since he would not like to see Bassanio disappointed. Bassanio suspects that the villain is up to something very cunning and tries to stop Antonio from accepting the Jew’s offer. He would instead go without the money than let his friend put his life at stake. However, Antonio convinces him that as soon as his ships arrive from the sea, he will return the Jew his money. All of this shows that the two friends love and trust each other deeply, and they will make any sacrifice for one another. It also shows that Antonio is quite emotional about his friend and can grow blinded by his love for him.
Bassanio receives Antonio's letter while he is with Portia and grows anxious that he has lost his ships at sea and failed to repay the loan. Antonio loves Bassanio deeply and wants to see him before the cunning Jew has taken his life away. His letter also contains a friendly rebuke for Bassanio, who seems to have forgotten his friend in Portia's company. Bassanio has found his love, whereas fate has been cruel to Antonio, who has lost all his wealth, but Bassanio's love and respect for his dearest pal have not reduced. Their friendship is not for money, but they are intensely loyal to each other. His friend's letter appears like Antonio's dead body to Bassanio. Every word in Antonio's letter is calling him a liar and disloyal. After all, it is for him and his love that Antonio had borrowed from the Jew. He feels guilty that he has betrayed his friend, and he would never be able to pardon himself if Antonio dies.
Upon being asked by Portia that who Antonio is, Bassanio replies that he is not just his best friend and the kindest man but also the most honorable person in all Italy. Antonio is a friend who is ready to sacrifice anything for him.
“The dearest friend to me, the kindest man,
The best conditioned and unwearied spirit
In doing courtesies, and one in whom
The ancient Roman honor more appears
Than any that draws breath in Italy”.
The Merchant of Venice. Act 3 Scene 2.
Portia at once understands that Antonio is a noble person who has suffered for Bassanio. She promises to provide Bassanio with as much wealth that he can repay twenty times the debt. The debt of the friend is massive, and Bassanio postpones his marriage. He rushes immediately to repay cruel Shylock and argues with him to accept a sum multiple times his loan and settle the debt. His requests are futile, and the Jew was not persuaded. However, things take a different turn when Portia intervenes.
It gets clear that both friends are fiercely loyal to each other. At first glance, it may look like Antonio is making all the sacrifices, and Bassanio is using him to find his love. Had it been so, Bassanio would not have postponed his marriage to return and see Antonio. Bassanio's helplessness near the end proves that he loves his friend dearly and cannot let him die at Shylock's hands. Antonio is an honest young gentleman who believes in fair business and is equally kind-hearted.
Bassanio is also a loyal friend whose conscience is being weighed down with guilt. He remains honest in his friendship with Antonio and stands by his side till the end when things take a comic turn, and the friends win the case against Shylock. Their trust in each other reveals that both are honest and honorable characters, true to their word. The bond between the two is unbreakable, and even when Antonio has no money, his worth for his friend has not diminished. It signifies several things, including the credibility of the two characters, their selflessness, and their devotion to each other. Shakespeare has provided one of the best examples of friendship and loyalty through Antonio and Bassanio in his Merchant of Venice.