Of Venice Essay, Research Paper
The Merchant of Venice
A View of Antonio
The character of Antonio is very complex, and his attitudes to the people around him are greatly different. He varies from kind and forgiving to a mean and evil man. To his friends he is generous and loving but to his enemies he is vengeful and spiteful.
The first spoken line in the play is “In sooth I know not why I am so sad.” This sets the scene for him and his attitude for the most part of the play. This is because a lot of the bad luck in the play falls upon him.
During the first part of the scene, Antonio is accompanied by two men called Solanio and Salarino. These pair are typical of most of his other “Friend.” Antonio is a very wealthy and powerful man who is very free in spending his money on his and his friends enjoyment. For this he has become widely known and has a number of social parasites, pretending to be his friends for his money. One man called Bassanio, is somebody whom Antonio loves like a brother and would do anything for. He is the reason that Antonio is so sad. The two who are with him though, do not know this and are doing all they can to cheer Antonio up. They have realised that if Antonio is sad he will not go out and spend his money on them as he will not be in the mood to party and enjoy himself. This is shown when they say “We will make our leisure to attend yours,” which is because when they are out with him, it is Antonio who is the one that picks up the bill.
The first impressions given of Antonio are of a melancholy, rich business man. He owns a vast empire of trading ships that earn him a lot of money and great respect. The only problem with that business is that when the ships are out nearly all of your assets are tied up. This means that if you do not have a lot of money in a bank or somewhere else then you have to borrow it. It also carries a lot of risk as if something goes wrong such as a ship sinking then an awful lot of money is lost.
Bassanio is Antonio s one real friend. Antonio loves him dearer than a brother and would do anything in the world for him. This is shown when he puts his own life at risk to get a loan from Shylock for him. Bassanio is a spendthrift and everybody on Venice knows that Bassanio has not got a good credit as there is no way that he could pay them back. Antonio however is a very good person to loan to as he is well known for having a good business and would be able to pay them back. To Bassanio Antonio is like a bank who gives out loans and never makes you pay them back. This unthinking attitude that Antonio has is one of his major weaknesses. He readily agrees to anything without thinking the whole thing through. This ultimately is the reason that the bond causes so much trouble. Near the end when Antonio is a broken man ready to die all he wants is to see his friend one more time before he dies. He is not angry at him even though it is actually Bassanio s fault he signed the bond, all he wants from him to repay all of his debts is to see him one more time.
In act one scene one Bassanio is getting ready to ask Antonio if he could borrow some money from him. Antonio readily agrees without a second thought even though he has no money himself at the minute as it is all out at sea. Bassanio hadn t even told him what it was for but he agreed anyway, plus Bassanio still owed him for all the other times that he had borrowed money. Antonio does this because he loves Bassanio but if he actually thought about it he is doing more harm than good. He is not teaching Bassanio the value of money. Every time he is in financial difficulty, Antonio just bails him out. So instead of saying “No, I have do not have enough money at the minute,” he just says “Try what my credit can in Venice do.” Here is where Antonio and Shylock are vitally different. Antonio is here not thinking whereas Shylock would have thought of every consequence.
Antonio has hatred for two things, one is Jews and the other is money lenders. Shylock is both of these and this is most probably the reason he hates him so much. He cannot stand people making money by lending it to others. This though is totally hypocritical, as what he does for a living eventually comes down to the same thing. When he buys goods and sells them for another he is charging interest. This is essentially what Shylock is doing, selling, in his case money for a higher price than what it s actually worth. His hatred for Jews is never actually found out, but one theory is he finds them completely boring. Christianity in this period was more of a social club than a religion. They still went to church but the nights were spent drinking, dining and having fun. Shylock disagreed with this wasting of money and that could be looked upon a view Antonio has of all Jews. This theory though if it is true is completely absurd, but as pointed out before the reason for his hatred of Jews is never clear cut.
Shylocks hatred of Antonio and the Christians is much better founded than Antonio s hatred of him. In the past Antonio has branded him “Dog Jew,” spat on him in the street, and generally mocked by all of Antonio s companions. To Shylock Antonio is so mean and spiteful compared to how he reacts with his friends he almost looks like a different person. All of Antonio s hangers on all try to please Antonio by agreeing with his views, which is why Shylock is spurned by them. At a guess I suspect that most of Shylocks suffering probably stems in some way from Antonio. That is why in the bond the cool and calculating Shylock would rather take the risk of Antonio s ships not coming back to take his life. His hatred must be so strong that he would prefer not to make any profit as to get a chance to legally kill Antonio.
Throughout the whole play Antonio attempts to hurt Shylock all he can in whatever shape or form. In Act two Scene two Antonio is the one who helps Jessica elope with a large and considerable amount of Shylocks wealth. The man that Jessica runs away with is also a Christian which makes the suffering that Shylock has much worse. In the court scene when Antonio finally escapes from the bond the beaten man does all he can to destroy Shylock, even after all he s been through. He takes away the three most important things that are Shylocks life, which in some ways could be worse than killing him. He takes away all of Shylocks money, makes him revoke his religion and convert to Christianity and lets Jessica marry Lorenzo. This is the other face of Antonio.
Late on in Act two news reaches Venice of the loss of Antonio s ships. To him this is one very heavy blow as it means he will not be able to pay back the loan. His pride however stops him from asking for help to pay back the loan. He says that he would rather be dead than be poor, because if he was poor he would most probably lose all his friends and power. They would all drift away to find other powerful people with more money and more power. He does however beg for mercy from Shylock. This is completely hypocritical as before he had said that he would never ever ask the “Dog Jew,” for anything. “Good Shylock,” however is how he greeted him on a visit to see him. Good is the last thing that Antonio thinks he is, and he also says “I pray thee,” for praying is something that you do to a god not to your worst enemy. He is stooping lower than he ever thought possible, as now there is nothing that any of his high and powerful friends can do to stop the bond from being carried out.
With all of the begging for mercy and compassion that Antonio does, you would think he could show a little himself. This however is not the case. At the point where the bond has been nullified Antonio has a chance, to let Shylock off the hook with a slight warning. He does nevertheless what Shylock had predicted before “Would though have a Serpent sting thee twice.” In this case the serpent being Antonio, and indeed stinging him twice, with more sting than ever before. In Act three Scene three he does however look sorry for all of his wrong doings but it is all just one big ploy.
Antonio s character is one of deep and passionate love and one of spite and cruelness. Without money Antonio would be nothing, and without Bassanio he would be a broken man. These are the two most important things to him and with the loss of one would come the end for him. He is a man who can love deeply and a man who would destroy his enemies without a second thought. That is Antonio, The Merchant of Venice.