Antonio's Love for Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice
Antonio feels closer to Bassanio than any other character in The Merchant of Venice. Our first clue to this is in the first scene when, in conversation with Antonio, Solanio says, "Here comes Bassanio, your most noble kinsman, / Gratiano, and Lorenzo. Fare ye well: / We leave you now with better company" (i. i. 57-59). Once Antonio is alone with Bassanio, the conversation becomes more intimate, and Antonio offers an indebted Bassanio "My purse, my person, my extremest means" (137). We find out later that Bassanio needs money to woo Portia, a noble heiress who Bassanio intends to marry. And though Antonio is not in a position to loan money at the time, he does not disappoint Bassanio:
Neither have I money, nor commodity
To raise a present sum; therefore, go forth;
Try what my credit can in Venice do:
That shall be racket, even to the uttermost,
To furnish thee to Belmont, to fair Portia. (124-128)
Antonio does not make these offers to any other character in The Merchant of Venice. In fact, there is only one scene in which Antonio is present and Bassanio not; in act 3 scene 3, and even then Antonio ends the scene with a plea for Bassanio: "Pray God, Bassanio come / To see me pay his debt, -- and then I care not" (iii, iii, 35-36).
Antonio expresses love for Bassanio to him several times throughout the play ("You know me well, and herein spend but time / To wind about my love with circumstance" [i, i, 154]; "Commend me to your honourable wife: / Tell her the process of Antonio's end; / Say how I loved you" [iv, i, 273-275]). But whether the love Antonio holds for Bassanio is either sexual or platonic is never overtly answered, which leaves speculation as to Antonio's feelings for his friend.
Many scholars are not quick to declare Antonio's love for Bassanio as a sexual desire; Alan Sinfield points out, "Whether Antonio's love is what we call sexual is a question which...is hard to frame, let alone answer" (Sinfield 124). But the common belief is that Antonio feels quite strongly for Bassanio (Sinfield 124). The question is, are those strong feelings amorous?
The first lines of The Merchant of Venice come from Antonio, who is lamenting over his present state of melancholy: "In sooth, I know not why I am so sad" (i, i, 1). "As the play opens, [Antonio] is marked as a man of complex feeling, not only sad but worried over 'What stuff [his sadness is] made of" and how it affects his ability to 'know' himself" (Patterson 20). His acquaintances Salarino and Solanio attempt to guess at the root or his sadness, first asking if it stems from business. After Antonio gives a short diatribe to dispel that idea, Salarino believes Antonio is in love. "Fie, fie!" (45) Antonio responds. But once Bassanio enters and is alone with Antonio, "Antonio is free to proceed to what is evidently uppermost in his mind" (Engle 23). And Engle, as well as other scholars, believe Bassanio's...