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Shakespeare’s Presentation Of Antonio In The Merchant Of Venice

1906 words - 8 pages

Shakespeare’s Presentation of Antonio in The Merchant of Venice

Shakespeare’s portrayal of Antonio in ‘The Merchant of Venice’ is
decidedly open to interpretation, as his melancholic nature is
revealed at the start of the play and foreshadows his later bad luck,
but a specific reasoning behind it is never given. For an Elizabethan
audience, Antonio provides the perfect Christian protagonist to
Shylock’s evil Jewish antagonist, although our modern reception of him
is much more diverse and as such provides the audience with a greater
sense of suspense concerning his fate, and enigma surrounding his
personality. Arguably this was Shakespeare’s intention as Antonio is
perceived as being the eponymous merchant and much of the play
revolves around his plight, yet he appears in very few scenes himself,
and the only real idea we have of him is that portrayed by his
admirers (friends and fellow Christians) and his rivals (Shylock); the
audience is left to question his integrity.

The Italian setting for the play seems typical of Shakespearian
romantic-comedies, yet the inclusion of the bitter feud between the
Christian and the Jew interrupts the course of love, elevating the
dramatic impact of the play and making it more of a tragedy. A key
element of this tragedy is Antonio’s ambiguous relationship with “good
Bassanio”. The compliments on Antonio’s temperance by his peers are
further expressed by Bassanio as he emphasises the kindness and gentle
nature of Antonio, acknowledging that he already owes to him “the most
in money and in love” but feels quite confident that his friend will
help him one last time by providing the capital to woo “fair Portia”.
Antonio seems too busy with his business investments to pursue his own
relationship with a woman; his like-minded bachelor companion Bassanio
was his only emotional outlet and so it is also possible that his
depression is his mourning for the loss of this ‘bond’ with Bassanio
now that he has “sworn a pilgrimage” to lady Portia. Antonio’s
agreement to the ‘bond’ with Shylock may be a final attempt to keep
Bassanio in his life, in the real world, which to him involves
business rather than the fairytale land of Belmont; no such place
could be further from Antonio’s reach – he “loves the world only for”
Venice. He seems intent on playing the wounded victim as his part in
the world “is a sad one”, yet in spite of this morbid self-indulgence
the audience feel compassion for him because outwardly he seems to
embody all the virtues of a Christian; he is kind and noble towards
his friends and clever as he has not “trusted” all his “ventures” in
“one bottom”. He appears fair in his business dealings, ambitious and
the perfect gentleman; the antithesis of Shylock and supposedly the
admirable hero of the play.

Shakespeare emphasises the rift...

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