The Depression of Antonio in Merchant of Venice
In the Merchant of Venice, we see a truly anti-Semitic play by Shakespeare. However, we also see a tale of money (greed and generosity), love (heterosexual and homosexual), and emotion (joy and sadness).
The play revolves around Bassanio's love for Portia. Bassanio needs money to play the suitor to Portia in "style". His friend who loves him, Antonio, agrees to give him the money, but, because all of his money is invested in his merchant ships he must take a loan from the greedy Jew Shylock. Shylock loans him the money in exchange for a pound of his flesh if he does not pay the loan back on time. Bassanio wins Portia's hand, but, before they are joined together, Portia will disguise herself in order to win the freedom of Antonio when his ships meet with ruin and he cannot repay Shylock. Shylock ends up losing half his wealth and must convert before Portia is through with him. Antonio is a fascinating character study when it comes to psychology because he is such a sad but noble character. He is world-weary and life's material things do not bring him joy. He is also confused about his sadness. As he says in the opening speech of the play, "In sooth, I know not why I an 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;/And such a want-wit sadness makes of me/That I have much ado to know myself" (Shakespeare 203).
Antonio explains he has scattered his investment risks quite adequately, so it is not his "merchandize" that makes him sad. Yet, he does admit that he feels it is his nature to be sad, as if he has a chemical imbalance that classifies him as clinically depressed, "I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano-/A stage, where every man must play a part,/And mine a sad one" (Shakespeare 204). However, if we explore the play more closely, we see that there are some valid external reasons that may be adding to Antonio's imbalance of humors. One of these is that he is suffering from the existential dilemma to a degree. In a world of appearances, he realizes how difficult it is to find real meaning and the truth. As he warns Bassanio regarding Shylock, "Mark you this, Bassanio,/Th devil can cite scripture for his purpose./An evil soul producing holy witness/Is like a villain with a smiling cheek-/A goodly apple rotten at the heart:/O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!" (Shakespeare 206).
Thus, Antonio is searching for something higher or more spiritual than the world of materialism and superficial appearances he views all about him. His speech above mirrors the speech of Bassanio when he discusses how the world of appearances is deceptive and often conceals the truth underneath. As he says, "The world is still deceiv'd with ornament" (Shakespeare 216). This is why he chooses the plain lead casket which is the correct one with Portia's picture. ...