DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH
GOVT. RAZVIA ISLAMIA COLLEGE
GOVT. RAZVIA ISLAMIA COLLEGE
Antonio is the title character in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. He is a middle-aged bachelor and merchant by trade who has his financial interests tied up in overseas shipments when the play begins. He is kind, generous, honest and confident, and is loved and revered by all the Christians who know him. Even Portia, who sees Antonio as a rival for her husband’s affections, reveres his character and appreciates his willingness to die for Bassanio.
Passive And Non-Combative
The key-note of his character is melancholy, and it is struck in the very first words he utters: ‘In sooth I know not why I am so sad’. And again
I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano
A stage where every man must play a part
And mine a sad one.
There is a lack of combativeness and self-assertion in his character. In the process of the trial, while friends and lawyers are doing their utmost for him, there is little show of fight in Antonio. All he can say is
Most heartily I do beseech the court
To give the judgment
‘This melancholy, faint-heartedness, carelessness of life, call it what one will, certainly makes Antonio a pale and somewhat uninteresting figure to us.’
(Spilsbury and Marshall)
However, it should be remembered that he has been made a passive character for dramatic purpose. The signing of the rash pound of flesh bond seems credible only on the part of a man so given to a nameless melancholy and so careless of life itself.
His Popularity, A Generous Friend
Antonio is a rich merchant of Venice. It is to be noted that all, except Shylock, speak most highly of him. Gratiano calls him, “The royal merchant, good Antonio”. To Bassanio he is a “dear friend”. Besides being a general favourite with the magnificoes of Venice, he entertains a truly noble affection for Bassanio. Not only does he assure his spendthrift friend. ‘my purse, my person, my extreme means, lie all unlocked to your occasions’, but he goes to such lengths of self-sacrifice as to risk his very life to assist him.
His Religious Intolerance
It is just because Antonio has such an excellent character in every respect that we may forgive him for his ungentlemanly behavior towards the Jew. Shylock protests:
Fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last:
You spurn’d me such a day; another time
You call’d me dog.
And Antonio answers at this
I am as like to call thee so again
To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too.
These remarks of Antonio destroy in us all possibility of sympathy for him. According to Spilsbury and Marshall, this is the only fault of his character, but it is a grave one.
Antonio is certainly a passive character, colourless and unimpressive. He is a mere shadow besides Shylock and Portia, and unsubstantial, even in comparison with his Venetian friends. But dramatically he is of the greatest importance. He is the very core and centre of the play. He is related to all the characters of the play in one way or the other. Bassanio, Gratiano, Salarino, Salanio and Lorenzo are his friends. Shylock is his enemy. Portia is his savior. He is the centre of interest in the play. It is he who helps Bassanio to go to Belmont and win the hand of Portia there. His pound of flesh bond leads directly to the trial scene where Portia comes to his rescue.