My purse, my person, my extremest means
Lie all unlocked to your occasions. (I.i.145-146)
After Bassanio approaches Antonio with his plan to get out of debt, Antonio tells him that he would sacrifice anything to help before even hearing the details of Bassanio’s plan. In this moment, we’re introduced to Antonio’s unwavering dedication to Bassanio, which motivates Antonio to take a risky loan from Shylock for Bassanio’s benefit two scenes later. Antonio’s decision to borrow money from Shylock, which stems from the strength his love for his friend, drives the plot of the entire play.
Well, jailer, on.—Pray God Bassanio come
To see me pay his debt, and then I care not. (III.iii.38-39)
Captured by Shylock and the jailer for defaulting on his loan, Antonio resigns himself to death, expressing the desire to see Bassanio before he dies. Because this combination of love and tragedy feels characteristic of romantic love, not love between friends, some scholars speculate that Antonio’s sadness might come from unrequited romantic feelings toward Bassanio. Either way, the intensity of Antonio’s feelings for Bassanio drives his decisions throughout the play.
The Jew shall have my flesh, blood, bones, and all
Ere thou shalt lose for me one drop of blood (IV.i.114-115)
Right before Portia enters the trial scene to save Antonio, Bassanio encourages Antonio to be brave, declaring that he will defend him from Shylock with everything he has. This declaration of friendship mirrors the one Antonio made for Bassanio in the first scene of the play (“my purse, my person, my extremest means…”), in both structure and intensity, showing us that friendship is a value that shapes Bassanio’s decisions, actions, and worldview just as it shapes the way Antonio lives.
Antonio, I am married to a wife
Which is as dear to me as life itself,
But life itself, my wife, and all the world
Are not with me esteemed above thy life. (IV.i.295-297)
Bassanio makes his ultimate proclamation of love to Antonio at the climax of the trial scene, when it seems as though Portia, disguised at Balthazar, will allow Shylock to cut the pound of flesh from Antonio’s chest. His claim that his love for his friend is greater than his love for both his wife and for life itself stresses the importance of friendship in the world of the play. The bond between friends governs the way these men think, speak, and act, shaping the course of the play.
You know me well, and herein spend but time To wind about my love with circumstance. And out of doubt you do me now more wrong In making question of my uttermost Than if you had made waste of all I have. Then do but say to me what I should do That in your knowledge may by me be done, And I am pressed unto it. Therefore speak. (A I , s i)
After Bassanio shows concern about the money he owes Antonio, Antonio reassures Bassanio by describing how he views their friendship. Antonio passionately explains that Bassanio should not worry about this money because their friendship is stronger than any debts. Antonio adds that when Bassanio doubts their friendship’s strength, he creates more worry and pain than any financial strain can cause. Antonio and Bassanio’s relationship reflects the theme of friendship throughout the play. The two men clearly care very deeply for one another.
To you, Antonio, I owe the most in money and in love, And from your love I have a warranty To unburden all my plots and purposes How to get clear of all the debts I owe. (A I, s i)
Bassanio tells Antonio that he wants to find an honorable way to pay his financial debt back to Antonio. He uses this moment to recognize his friendship with Antonio, declaring that he not only owes him money, but also love. He also affirms that he knows that Antonio cares for him and will help him decide on the best way to pay off his debts. This interchange clearly displays a friendship with a strong bond.
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 describes Antonio and Bassanio’s friendship to Solanio by explaining the scene of their goodbye as Bassanio left to win Portia’s heart. Salarino’s description indicates that Bassanio and Antonio share a very close bond. Their relationship seems to mirror that of a father and son as Antonio feels proud of Bassanio and will do anything to help him succeed in love and life, but he also finds saying goodbye bittersweet. This heartfelt moment between Bassanio and Antonio as described by Salarino further develops the theme of friendship in the play.