In a conversation between Salerio and Solanio,
In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, some literary critics have viewed Antonio’s sadness as a result of loss and jealousy over Bassanio’s pursuit for Portia. At first glance, it is reasonable to share this interpretation since Antonio confesses his love for Bassanio in a number of instances. Is this the right interpretation? It is widely recognized that the language and culture of Shakespeare’s time often makes it easy for the modern reader to misinterpret the original meaning. Through careful consideration of the conversations by Salarino, Bassanio, and Portia, we see that Antonio’s sadness was due to his understanding that his friendship would be diminished once Bassanio marries Portia. Although it seems as if Antonio possesses a romantic love for Bassanio, it is simply not the case. Antonio’s love towards Bassanio was not romantic in nature, rather it was one of of selfless friendship, respectful friendship, and the brotherly love found among men.We see Antonio’s selfless friendship when he encourages Bassanio to go to Belmont and seek out Portia. During a conversation between Salerio and Solanio, Salerio retells the farewell between Bassanio and Antonio. Antonio says, “Do not so. / Slubber not business for my sake, Bassanio, / But stay the very riping of the time; / And for the Jew’s bond which he hath of me, / Let it not enter in your mind of love. / Be merry, and employ your chiefest thoughts / To courtship and such fair ostents of love / As shall conveniently become you there” (2.8.39-46). In this quote, Antonio tells Bassanio not to hurry back from visiting Portia. Moreover, he tells him not to worry about the loan (nor the consequences), and to win Portia’s love. From this passage, we can see that Antonio does not have a possessive or jealous spirit, which you would expect if he was in romantic love. Instead Antonio possessed an altruistic attitude towards Bassanio. In a similar vein, Bassanio does not view his friendship with Antonio as romantic in nature. Bassanio’s conversation with Portia furthers our understanding of their relationship as one based on respect. After reading the letter written by Antonio, Bassanio tells Portia that Antonio’s merchant ships have all failed. Subsequently, Portia asks, “Is it your dear friend that is thus in trouble,” Bassanio replies,”The dearest friend to me, the kindest man, / The best-conditioned and unwearied spirit / In doing courtesies,” (3.2.303-305). In this quote, Bassanio confirms that their friendship was based on respect and high esteem. He simply respected Antonio’s high character and kind spirit. His openness with his future wife about Antonio also demonstrates that Bassanio did not have anything to hide from Portia. Had Bassanio been romantically involved with Antonio, it would be difficult to be as open. Portia’s actions and observations further confirm our understanding that Antonio’s friendship was based in part on a brotherly love found among men. After hearing the news that Antonio would default on the loan since his none of ships will return (e.g., due to shipwrecks), Portia insists on saving Antonio by paying the bond. Portia tells Bassanio, “Pay him six thousand and deface the bond! / Double six thousand, and then treble that, / Before a friend of this description / Shall lose a hair through Bassanio’s fault.” (3.2.311-314). From this quote, Portia’s insistence to save her future husband’s friend at great cost intimates that Antonio could never have been an ex-lover of Bassanio. If Portia had any reason to be jealous romantically, then she could have easily let Antonio pay for the bond with a pound of his flesh. Throughout The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare depicts Antonio’s love towards Bassanio as one of a selfless, respectful and brotherly love. Instead of possessing the one we love, Shakespeare shows the beauty of altruistic love. Instead of placing physical beauty in high regards, kindness and temperance is most valued. Last but not least, Shakespeare displayed brotherly love instead of romantic love. Like Antonio, there will come a time where our best friend will feel a pronounced sadness when we get married. Nonetheless, they will go to great lengths to foster our happiness, respect our shared memories, and we will repay any outstanding debts.