'Tis not unknown to you, Antonio,
How much I have disabled mine estate,
By something showing a more swelling port
Than my faint means would grant continuance.
Nor do I now make moan to be abridged
From such a noble rate. But my chief care
Is to come fairly off from the great debts
Wherein my time something too prodigal
Hath left me gaged. (A I , s i)
Bassanio tells Antonio about his financial debt. He explains how he has been living the high life, spending money frivolously, but now wants to pay off his debts honorably. Bassanio’s description of his lifestyle reveals that although he behaved carelessly and immaturely with his money, he possesses a sense of responsibility to be an honest person and he genuinely wants to find a solution to his debt.
Thou art too wild, too rude and bold of voice—
Parts that become thee happily enough
And in such eyes as ours appear not faults.
But where thou art not known, why, there they show
Something too liberal. Pray thee, take pain
To allay with some cold drops of modesty
Thy skipping spirit, lest through thy wild behavior
I be misconst’red in the place I go to,
And lose my hopes. (A II, s ii)
After Gratiano asks to join Bassanio on his trip to plead for Portia’s hand in marriage, Bassanio explains why he must say no. Bassanio reveals that while he usually lives carefree and doesn’t condemn wild behavior, he wants to take his plea to marry Portia seriously and make a good impression. Thus, he believes it best if Gratiano stays behind.
Madam, there is alighted at your gate
A young Venetian, one that comes before
To signify th' approaching of his lord,
From whom he bringeth sensible regreets,
To wit—besides commends and courteous breath—
Gifts of rich value. Yet I have not seen
So likely an ambassador of love.
A day in April never came so sweet
To show how costly summer was at hand,
As this forespurrer comes before his lord. (A II, s ix)
A messenger announces to Portia the arrival of a new suitor, describing him with hope. He explains that this new suitor appears polite, wealthy, and shows great promise as deserving of Portia’s love. While Portia does not yet know the identity of this suitor as Bassanio, the audience, through the messenger’s words, gets a glimpse into Bassanio’s character in how he presents himself to Portia.
The seeming truth which cunning times put on
To entrap the wisest. Therefore then, thou gaudy gold,
Hard food for Midas, I will none of thee.
Nor none of thee, thou pale and common drudge
'Tween man and man. But thou, thou meagre lead,
Which rather threaten’st than dost promise aught,
Thy paleness moves me more than eloquence,
And here choose I. Joy be the consequence! (A III, s ii)
Bassanio thinks aloud as he chooses among the boxes, revealing his reasons for deciding on the lead box. He explains his choice by focusing on how decoration can trick the viewer, but that he sees past appearances and relies on his instincts and intellect. Through this thought process and choice, Bassanio shows his genuine and wise character. Even though his interest in Portia started with a desire to solve his money problems, he now focuses his desire on her more valuable qualities than her wealth.
When I did first impart my love to you,
I freely told you, all the wealth I had
Ran in my veins. I was a gentleman,
And then I told you true. And yet, dear lady,
Rating myself at nothing, you shall see
How much I was a braggart. When I told you
My state was nothing, I should then have told you
That I was worse than nothing, for indeed
I have engaged myself to a dear friend,
Engaged my friend to his mere enemy
To feed my means. (A III, s ii)
Bassanio responds to the letter he just received regarding Antonio’s misfortune and impending fate. He explains to Portia how he came to her with less than nothing by borrowing from Antonio and putting him in this situation. With these words, Bassanio admits his faults, but also shows his honesty with Portia and his genuine concern for Antonio.