How like a fawning publican he looks! I hate him for he is a Christian, But more for that in low simplicity He lends out money gratis and brings down The rate of usance here with us in Venice. If I can catch him once upon the hip, I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him. He hates our sacred nation, and he rails, Even there where merchants most do congregate, On me, my bargains and my well-won thrift, Which he calls “interest.” Cursèd be my tribe If I forgive him! (A I, s iii)
Shylock expresses his thoughts and feelings about Antonio. He recounts how Antonio has criticized him publicly for his usury. Shylock also states that Antonio’s simplistic business practice of lending out money interest free hurts Venetian loan rates. Despite the vehemence of Shylock’s opinions based in religious prejudice, readers gain insight into Antonio’s true character.
A kinder gentleman treads not the earth. I saw Bassanio and Antonio part. Bassanio told him he would make some speed Of his return. He answered, “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.” 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. (A II, s viii)
Salarino recounts Antonio’s parting with Bassanio as Bassanio leaves to win Portia’s hand in marriage. Salarino’s description reveals Antonio to be a kind gentleman and a loyal and caring friend. His desire to see his friend Bassanio happy in life and love overrides his sorrow in watching his friend depart.
But it is true, without any slips of prolixity or crossing the plain highway of talk, that the good Antonio, the honest Antonio—oh, that I had a title good enough to keep his name company! (A III, s i)
After hearing rumors that one of Antonio’s ships crashed, Solanio describes Antonio as good and honest—a person he wishes he could befriend. Readers gather from this and other descriptions of Antonio that he is well-loved throughout Venice as he’s been kind, generous, and honest to most people.
The dearest friend to me, the kindest man, The best conditioned and unwearied spirit In doing courtesies, and one in whom The ancient Roman honor more appears Than any that draws breath in Italy. (A III, s ii)
Bassanio describes Antonio to Portia. Bassanio just learned that the loss of Antonio’s ships at sea means Antonio has no way of paying back his loan to Shylock. While talking to Portia, Bassanio describes Antonio as kind, generous to others, and one of the most honorable men in Italy. Bassanio’s friendship and view of Antonio provide readers with a clear picture of Antonio’s well-liked and good-hearted character.
The duke cannot deny the course of law. For the commodity that strangers have With us in Venice, if it be denied, Will much impeach the justice of his state, Since that the trade and profit of the city Consisteth of all nations. Therefore go. These griefs and losses have so bated me, That I shall hardly spare a pound of flesh Tomorrow to my bloody creditor.— Well, jailer, on.—Pray God Bassanio come To see me pay his debt, and then I care not. (A III, s iii)
Antonio speaks with Solanio about the contract he made with Shylock. While Solanio pleads that the duke prohibit this contract to be enforced, as the end result would cause Antonio harm, Antonio insists that they must follow the law for the sake of Venice. Such a concern demonstrates Antonio’s fair and honest character. Antonio only cares that Bassanio see his debt discharged before he dies, a desire that reveals his self-sacrificing love.
I pray you, think you question with the Jew? You may as well go stand upon the beach And bid the main flood bate his usual height. You may as well do anything most hard, . . . As seek to soften that—than which what’s harder?— His Jewish heart. Therefore I do beseech you Make no more offers, use no farther means, But with all brief and plain conveniency Let me have judgment and the Jew his will. (A IV, s i)
Antonio pleads with Bassanio to stop trying to convince Shylock to have mercy or change his mind regarding Antonio’s payment because he believes Shylock’s heart can’t be softened. Antonio accepts his punishment and fate almost like a martyr, and tries to convince Bassanio to also accept the inevitable. Like many tragic heroes, Antonio’s calm acceptance and courage in this moment make him even more admired by fellow characters and readers alike.
I am a tainted wether of the flock, Meetest for death. The weakest kind of fruit Drops earliest to the ground, and so let me. You cannot better be employed, Bassanio, Than to live still and write mine epitaph. (A IV, s i)
Antonio responds to Bassanio’s declaration that he will not let Antonio die for his debts and he will step in and take Antonio’s place. Antonio explains that he won’t allow such an action as he views himself as the weakest man in this situation, and as such, he should be the one to die. By insisting that Bassanio is the better man and must live, Antonio reveals his selfless character once again.
Grieve not that I am fall'n to this for you, For herein Fortune shows herself more kind Than is her custom. It is still her use To let the wretched man outlive his wealth, To view with hollow eye and wrinkled brow An age of poverty—from which lingering penance Of such misery doth she cut me off. (A IV, s i)
Antonio speaks to Bassanio about his impending death. He tells Bassanio not to grieve his death because in dying, he escapes a worse fate of living in poverty in old age. Antonio’s view in the face of his own death speaks to how he seems to look for the positive even in the most desperate situations. Antonio’s words also show how he wants to spare his friend guilt and sadness upon his death.
So please my lord the duke and all the court, To quit the fine for one half of his goods I am content, so he will let me have The other half in use to render it Upon his death unto the gentleman That lately stole his daughter. Two things provided more: that for this favor He presently become a Christian; The other, that he do record a gift Here in the court, of all he dies possessed, Unto his son Lorenzo and his daughter. (A IV, s i)
Here, Antonio responds to the court’s deal with Shylock, revealing a crafty side to his personality. When he believed he was to die for his debt, Antonio acted like a tragic hero ready to accept his fate. Once the court rules in his favor, however, Antonio seizes upon this sudden turn of events to get back at Shylock, perhaps in a way Antonio feels fair or fitting. He crafts a proposal designed to punish Shylock—make him become a Christian and force him to give up money.
I once did lend my body for his wealth, Which but for him that had your husband’s ring Had quite miscarried. I dare be bound again, My soul upon the forfeit, that your lord Will never more break faith advisedly. (A V, s i)
Once again, Antonio offers himself up for Bassanio’s sake. To add a comedic element, he draws a joking parallel with his near-tragic first sacrifice to this scenario regarding ring vows between Portia and Bassanio. Antonio will clearly do anything for Bassanio, from giving his life to giving his soul. Still, Antonio credits Bassanio and Portia with saving his life, even though it was Bassanio’s debt that almost caused his death in the first place.