The depth of Shakespeare’s characters and the cleverness he uses in their dialogue makes reading The Merchant of Venice all more enjoyable. It is between Bassanio and Portia’s dialogues that we see most of these witty moments. The two are a dynamic couple, and we watch how they play, speak and act with each other in a very witty way. Shakespeare himself was very bright as he used Bassanio’s and Portia’s relationship and how they complement one another is used as a device to detail Antonio’s depression and loneliness.
There are many moments in The Merchant of Venice where we see Bassanio and Portia act either in comparison or in contrast to each other. When Bassanio debates which casket to choose, he talks about looks versus reality. The first example he brings up is that of law and courts, “In law, what plea so tainted and corrupt / But, being season’d with a gracious voice, / Obscures the show of evil?” (p. 51, ll. 75). Later during the trial Portia not only obscures her true self acting as a man but also allows her personal biases to corrupt the verdict. This connection of talks and acts of corruption and deception between the couple draws a direct line between them. This concept can be further strung when you look at their places of living. Bassanio comes from Venice, a place of business, money, and justice. Portia contradicts this, as Belmont is full of art, poetry and music, “Come, ho! and wake Diana with a hymn. / With sweetest touches pierce your mistress’ ear, / And draw her home with music” (p. 90, ll. 66-68). These dualities between Bassanio and Portia are made clear to the audience so when we see Antonio we see his depression and loneliness amplified.
From the start of the play, we understand that Antonio is lonely. It is clear that he’s depressed but we see it alleviated with the presence of Bassanio. It is no surprise that once Bassanio is gone, no matter what interpretation of the relationship between the two men, Antonio becomes even more lonely. We hear Salarino recount how Antonio said goodbye to Bassanio, “Slubber not business for my sake, Bassanio, / But stay the very riping of the time;” (p. 41, ll. 40-41). Antonio must reassure that he will be fine, yet even then Salarino describes, “And even there, his eye being big with tears / Turning his face, he put his hand behind him, / And with affection wondrous sensible / He wrung Bassanio’s hand, and so they parted” (p. 41, ll. 47-50). Antonio cries as Bassanio leaves him. This depression over their separation would only worsen with time, and it’s likely to assume that had the trial not happened, he would’ve stayed longer in Belmont.
This distinct connection between Antonio and Bassanio being replaced by Bassanio and Portia was super enjoyable for me, especially so if you’re interpretation of Bassanio and Antonio is in a more romantic direction. It can create this other layer of longing and forbidden love. I can find myself in the future referencing The Merchant of Venice, and I would be very interested in watching it performed at a theatre.