Bassanio serves as a kind of catalyst throughout The Merchant of Venice, provoking much of the play’s action. At the beginning, Bassanio is a good-natured but irresponsible young man who has gotten himself into debt by living beyond his means. He hopes to get out of debt by marrying a wealthy heiress, but he first needs to court Portia in the fashion she will expect. Bassanio shows his reckless nature by banking on this course of action, although he does claim that Portia seems to have shown a liking for him. While men like Antonio attempt to profit by making investments in commerce and trade, Bassanio takes his risks in the realm of love and desire. His confidence is ultimately rewarded since Portia falls in love with him. Despite his apparent financial impulsiveness, Bassanio chooses shrewdly when faced with the riddle of the caskets. He is not fooled by the superficial beauty of the gold and silver caskets, noting that “the world is still deceived with ornament” (III.ii.76). Bassanio’s success in solving the riddle indicates his worthiness as a suitor for Portia.
Even though Bassanio exploits his friendship with Antonio by constantly borrowing his money, Bassanio’s reaction to Antonio’s misfortune reveals the love he has for his companion. Bassanio has just achieved his heart’s desire by winning Portia’s hand in marriage, but when he learns that Antonio defaulted on his loan and owes Shylock a pound of his flesh, Bassanio’s focus immediately shifts to how to help Antonio, and he hurries back to Venice. He reassures Antonio by saying, “The Jew shall have my flesh, blood, bones, and all / Ere thou shalt lose for me one drop of blood” (IV.i.113-114). Bassanio remains steadfastly supportive of Antonio throughout the trial. He also shows his newfound sense of caution by initially being unwilling to give his ring to Portia while she is disguised as Balthazar. However, Bassanio proves that he is still somewhat susceptible to social pressure by ultimately giving in to Antonio’s urging and handing over the ring. By the end of the play, Bassanio has shown deep care for both Antonio and Portia, but he still nonetheless derives satisfaction from the wealth he mooches from these characters, and he seems to manipulate situations to serve his own interests.