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Portia's unflinching loyalty to her
Shakespeare cannot give Antonio too much to do or say without taking away valuable dialogue time from his major characters.Portia understands that in order to help her husband's friend Antonio, she must dress like a man in order to escape the strict limitations placed on women at the timeAn offering. Portia was a heroine in Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice'.
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Discuss the relationship between Antonio and Bassanio. What does their friendship reveal about their characters?
That Antonio and Bassanio are very good friends, becomes clear right from the initial scenes. Whatever slight doubt is there gets cleared by the end. Throughout the drama, the two friends are dearer than life to each other. Their love and trust for each other are evident at every stage of the drama. Each one of the two is ready to go to any extent to serve and help the other. It is visible that Bassanio is less a friend and more a brother to Antonio.
“Within the eye of honor,
be assured My purse,
my person, my extremest means
Lie all unlocked to your occasions.”
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The themes of loyalty and friendship run thick in the play "The Merchant of Venice". There are various instances of both loyalty and friendship, but Antonio and Bassanio's bond and Portia's love for her father remain the most important examples.
Antonio and Bassanio are very good friends; so much so that Antonio is willing to borrow three thousand ducats for Bassanio. The fact that he borrows the money from Shylock, who is a shrewd person as well as a Jew who hated Christians, especially Antonio, complicates matters further. Though Antonio does not take the terms of the bond seriously when he signs it, eventually he faces death because of the same clause. Shylock is able to use the friendship between Antonio and Bassanio to legally trap Antonio and and tries to get a "pound of flesh" from around his heart.
Antonio has a court appearance when Bassanio is in Belmont, wooing Portia. Even at such a time, when it is a matter of life and death, Antonio does not blame Bassanio. He only wishes to meet Bassanio. Despite knowing all about Bassanio's spendthrift ways, Antonio still borrows for him. Bassanio too holds him in great regard, is honest with him and so rushes from Belmont to Venice just after winning Portia's hand in marriage. Portia for her part acknowledges their friendship too, which is why she steps into the court.
Portia is won over by Bassanio because he cleared the casket test. Portia's late father devised this test to ensure that Portia does not marry the wrong sort of person. Portia is an educated, decisive and strong lady. She is quite capable of taking her own decisions, but it is her loyalty and respect for her father that makes her accept the test. The test is binding and scary in the sense that she can be stuck with someone she does not like. Yet, she is willing to take that chance. Like Antonio, does for friendship, Portia too puts her entire life at risk for the love of her father.
Coincidentally, it is this test that brings Bassanio to Portia's home in Belmont. Had there been no test, Bassanio would possibly have not even known about Portia. Bassanio's desire to improve his finances through marriage leads him to ask Antonio for money. So, in essence, it is the casket test and Portia's loyalty to her father that causes Antonio to sign the pact with Shylock. The themes are intertwined throughout the play.
Had the friendship between the two men not been so strong, the pact would not have been signed and the courtroom scene would not have been the climax of the play. Similarly, had Portia not been so respectful towards her father, she would not have known of Antonio’s fate (from Bassanio) and would not have been able to resolve the crisis in the courtroom scene. Thus, both the themes are crucial for the plot, without which the play would not have existed.
More on "The Merchant of Venice"
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