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.