The Merchant of Venice .. Main characters
The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare … Character analysis of Shylock, Portia and Bassanio
For the first time reader, Shylock appears to be the central pivot of the gripping story, The Merchant of Venice. He was, no doubt, a greedy, cruel and cunning money-lender with a heart filled with vitriol and extreme animosity towards the Christians he lived with. He was a Jew who charged usurious interest on the loans he gave. He had no mercy on the defaulters and pounced on them with vengeance, no matter how much pain it caused to the loanee.
He was, perhaps, the target of relentless harassment by the Christian majority government of those times. He was an embittered man, hounded by fellow Christian citizens. Some critics tend to take a lenient view of the hideous nature of Shylock considering the hostile environment he had to contend with all his lifetime.
Shylock derived a sadistic satisfaction in inflicting humiliation on Christian businessmen of his city. He had no soft corner in his heart for his daughter who was in love with a Christian young man. Religious bigotry prevented him from reconciling to their marriage.
His meanness comes to sharp focus when he invokes the clause in the loan document signed by Antonio, and demands his pound of flesh from the heart of his beleaguered borrower. The scene in the court is as riveting as it is sad. The readers breathlessly await the climax with Shylock ready with his sharp knife and the upright Antonio stepping forward to offer himself for the butchery. Shylock is pitiless and unforgiving. Luckily for the readers, the story takes a complete U-turn with Shylock trying to wriggle out of a very inconvenient situation.
Shakespeare’s portrayal of Shylock’s evil side is vivid and powerful. It adds a touch of highly drama and poignancy to the story. The story leaves an indelible mark in the reader’s mind and leaves us to ponder if Shylock deserves a softer assessment. Nonetheless, The Merchant of Venice owes its greatness as a novel to Shylock. We must concede this to him.
Portia is the damsel who is cherished by many blue-eyed young men. She is beautiful, intelligent, urbane, sophisticated and principled. She is a paragon of beauty, and with her grace, she becomes the woman of dream for so many eligible suitors.
Bassanio is very enchanted with Portia and is desperate to win her hands. Portia has dropped enough hints that he could woo her, with some luck, of course. It was during an earlier sojourn to Belmont that Bassanio read it in her eyes. Nerissa, the maid of Portia, knows Portia’s inclination towards Bassanio. When she mentions it to Portia, the latter struggles to conceal the excitement. Portia is too dignified to let a maid be privy to her inner feelings. But, the torment of love sweeps her inhibition aside.
Portia is a young woman with no dearth of romantic feelings. She is agog with joy to learn through Nerissa that Bassanio has already arrived at her mansion to take part in the contest. She, by then, has fallen for Bassanio’s masculine charm and personality. She pleads with him saying, “Pause a day or two, for in choosing wrong, I lose your company.” This is ample indication for the young man that his battle is already half won.
Bassanio’s makes the correct choice of the casket. Portia is in Cloud 9. She surrenders to his irresistible chivalry and charm. She offers herself and every other material possession she has to the young man who is soon going to be her husband. The earlier Portia – reticent, stately and carrying an air of superiority – is now a meek, obedient, caring and submissive woman, bewitched by her suitor’s persona. With impeccable presence of mind and sense of judgment, she dispatches Bassanio to rescue Antonio from the clutches of Shylock. Her magnanimity and maturity come to the fore when she decides to wait to be Bassanio’s wife, formally.
Portia is portrayed as a lady of substance – a woman who does not fall to the temptations of flesh forsaking her graciousness and sense of sympathy. She emerges as a woman of formidable virtue and great forbearance. The novel The Merchant of Venice would have been poorer without Portia.
Bassanio is Antonio’s best very close friend. He adores Portia, the paragon of beauty and grace, and is desperate to woo her and make her his wife.
Bassanio is a happy-go-lucky young man who loves all the good things of life. He is poor in his money management, and tends to live beyond his means. He has mismanaged his shipping business, and makes no effort to hide his failings. He is down in debt, and vainly wishes that good luck will soon arrive to help him pay off the loans. Antonio is one of his creditors. He brazenly wants to borrow more to pay for his romantic pursuit of Portia. One can safely conclude that Bassanio is callous and insensitive.
Although in great debt, he has no qualms about taking more loan to chase a woman he adores. Such attitude deserves little appreciation. Behind his fascination for the youthful Portia, it is difficult to ignore Bassanio’s lust for her wealth. No doubt, he is a cunning player. He knows his friend Antanio’s large-heartedness, and magnanimity. Quite shamefully, he asks Antanio to stake his honour and life to borrow money from Shylock, the notoriously cruel money-lender. A ‘Pound of Flesh’ for the pleasures of flesh – surely reprehensible!!
While prodding his friend Antonio to arrange the loan, Bassanio makes little effort to hide his fascination both for her mind, mansion, and for her money. It was sheer lust compounded with greed and cunningness.
It would be unfair to assume that Bassanio ‘used’ Antonio to get the money. He truly was loyal to Antonio and cared for his safety and well being. This is why, he did not wish to stay back to enjoy conjugal pleasure with his beautiful wife, and rushed to save his dearest friend from the jaws of a very cruel death engineered by Shylock.