The Motivation of Antonio in The Merchant of Venice, a Play by William Shakespeare

Categories: LiteratureShakespeare

Antonio’s Motivation in The Merchant of Venice

On the surface, the Venetian merchant Antonio, despite being the play’s titular character, appears to be a lackluster individual who plays a relatively passive role in William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. He emerges in in the first scene as an inexplicably depressed man who gradually devolves, later on in the play, into an item of self-pity who does not appear to even make an effort in defense against execution. He has no obvious character arc, which makes significance of his character even more difficult to discover.

However, the alert reader can perhaps find greater meaning into Antonio’s emotions and actions in the play and ascertain a hidden, obscure set of motivations that lead Antonio to do what he does; an analysis of his actions can elicit certain unapparent motives of which possibly Antonio is not even aware. Evidence in the play seems to point that the source of the merchant’s melancholy is his being in love, despite his denial of the idea in Act I, Scene 1: “ANTONIO: Therefore my merchandise makes me not sad.

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SOLANIO: Why, then, you are in love. ANTONIO: Fie, fie! SOLANIO: Not in love neither?”

The clear object of his affection is his friend, Bassanio, and evidence points to his in several occasions; Antonio has risked his entire fortune on overseas trading, but he still generously agrees to the potentially lethal loan Shylock creates; he is willing to risk a pound of his flesh simply for Bassanio’s opportunity to woo Portia in Belmont; and he does this despite Bassanio already owing him for previous instances of generosity.

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The hidden motive of being in love with Bassanio arises again later in the play as well, when his proclamations resonate in a doomed lover’s declaration of “Pray God Bassanio come, to see me pay his debt, then I care not.” These emotions he feels for Bassanio are likely reason enough to account for the brash actions he takes throughout the play’s duration, including his boundless monetary generosity towards Bassanio, even though Bassanio seems to take advantage of this.

Antonio’s deeds in the play can be characterized as what the average person would consider a foolish decision, including Bassanio, when he reacts with apprehension regarding Antonio’s seemingly impetuous decision to agree to Shylock’s bargain. But when Antonio’s feelings for Bassanio are taken into consideration, all of his seemingly foolish actions can be accredited to acts of love.

In the end of the play, Antonio is concluded as happily as he can, what with the return of some of his ships that were formerly allegedly lost at sea. Therefore he is restored to his wealth but not quite delivered into love. He will likely continue to pursue his other hobby after the play’s storyline concludes, which is moping around the streets of Venice and practicing anti Semitism by abusing Shylock and the other Jewish people.

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The Motivation of Antonio in The Merchant of Venice, a Play by William Shakespeare. (2022, Apr 21). Retrieved from

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