MERCHANT OF VENICE: Antonio, Bassanio’s friendship

21 Jun, 2015 - 01:06 0 Views
MERCHANT OF VENICE: Antonio, Bassanio’s friendship William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

 
Charles Dube – IN this episode I will consider a number of issues starting with Antonio and Bassanio’s friendship. The question in mind is how good a friend Antonio is to Bassanio and how good a friend is Bassanio to Antonio?

Antonio, the merchant of Venice, and it is to him that the title of the play refers. He is known to be rich, generous and helpful to those around him. He has been especially kind to his close friend Bassanio. At the beginning of the play Antonio tells his other friends Salerio and Solanio that he is sad at heart but cannot say why. “In sooth, I know not why I am so sad; it wearies me; you say it wearies you; But how I caught it, found it, or came by it, what stuff’ it is made of, whereof it is born, I am to learn;

They suggest he is worried about his merchant-ships at sea, but he denies this. He assures them that he is not worried about love affairs either. Bassanio arrives with Lorenzo and Gratiano. Solanio appreciates that these who have arrived are much closer to Antonio and Salerio concurs with him. Solanio says: “Here comes Bassanio, your most noble kinsman, Gratiano, and Lorenzo. Fare ye well, we leave you now with better company.”

Salerio in turn says: “I would have stayed till I had made you merry, if worthier friends had not prevented me. The rest of the company leaves and Antonio remains with Bassanio. Bassanio’s love life is the first thing that Antonio brings up when they are alone together. It is interesting to note that with Bassanio, the sad Antonio seems to be more at ease. They talk in a friendly way of Bassanio’s love for the beautiful heiress Portia.

Antonio says: “Well, tell me now what lady is the same to whom you swore a secret pilgrimage, that you today promised to tell me of.” There is a school of thought that Bassanio’s new courtship seems likely to be the source of Antony’s sadness as it is at the foremost of his mind. Can we say Antonio is obsessed with Bassanio’s courtship of Portia while at the same time worried about the repercussions of the success of the mission?

Antonio clearly cares deeply about Bassanio as a friend and is facing the fact that he might lose him to this woman who is coming into the picture. Bassanio reveals that he is greatly dependent on Antonio. He makes this revelation when he says: “To you Antonio I owe the most in money and in love, and from your love I have a warranty to unburden all my plots and purposes, how to get clear of all the debts I owe.”

Brutus says he is sharing with Antonio because they are friends, but he makes it clear that he owes Antonio the most in “money and love” Antonio has been very generous with Bassanio who has had a hard time trying to keep his finances in order. Bassanio has failed to live within his means. He has been extravagant with his finances and Antonio has bailed him out on all occasions. Critics point out that this might be the first hint that friendship might mean a different thing for Bassanio than it does for Antonio.

Bassanio might just be working on Antonio’s affection in order to keep his purse strings open. He wants Antonio to keep on lending him money. Bassanio wants Antonio’s generosity to continue flowing. Antonio says: “I pray you, good Bassanio, let me know it, and if it stand, as you yourself still do, within the eye of honour, be assured my purse, my person, my extremist means, lie all unlocked to your occasions.” Antonio is prepared to do anything for his friend including loaning him the money to woo Portia.What is interesting is that Antonio says that it is not just his purse (wallet) that is unlocked for Bassanio’s use, he is also making his entire “person” available to his friend. This is quite an extreme offer of help which is interpreted by critics as a sexual relationship. However, there is no doubt that Antonio loves Bassanio as the former uses his own flesh as collateral so that Bassanio can woo Portia who is stuck at her estate waiting for her true love to propose.

Before rounding up today’s discussion we might briefly look at the contribution Shylock, Lorenzo and Jessica make to the play. Shylock in the play is to be the obstacle, the man who stands in the way of love stories. He is an epitome of selfishness. According to Shylock’s wish, Jessica should not have married Lorenzo. When Lorenzo elopes with Jessica having stolen his ducats and jewelry, Shylock is devastated. Jessica runs away from her father and also converts to Christianity — both portrayed as acts of abandonment.

When Launcelot the clown says Jessica is “damned” as hell because she is the Jew’s daughter, Jessica declares “I shall be saved by my husband. He has made me a Christian.” The idea here is that Jessica’s marriage to a Christian man will automatically make her a Christian. This is a Biblical allusion which says a woman is sanctified by her husband.

Launcelot Gobbo shows his dislike of the Jew — to him the Jew is the devil incarnation.

Jessica, Shylock’s daughter echoes this when she says: “Our house is hell,” and “Alack, what heinous sin is it in me, to be ashamed to be my father’s child.” Shylock is shown as bloodthirsty and a heartless villain in the majority of cases in the play.

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