Within the Merchant of Venice, we witness Bassanio’s ongoing, and growing, relationships to two separate characters. First, we are introduced and shown his relationship with Antonio. This relationship seems to be set in “friendship,” however, the subtext between the two may cause some to believe there is more between the two. Additionally, we see a bond form between Bassanio and Portia in act three.
In the first act, when Bassanio arrives to Antonio, his original plan is to ask for more money. However, Bassanio states, “To you, Antonio, / I owe the most in money and love, / and from your love I have a warranty / to unburden all my plans and purposes / how to get clear of all the debts I owe” (I.i.130-134). By looking at this line, it is possible to infer that Bassanio feels something deeper than friendship to Antonio. As we progress in the play, we learn Bassanio is in need of a loan. Antonio, with his money tied up in his merchant ships, offers a solution: to ask Shylock. While this decision to ask Shylock brings Bassanio the money he needs to impress Portia, and potentially gain her hand in marriage, it comes at a deep price for Antonio.
Antonio and Shylock agree, there will be no interest on this loan, and he will have three months to give the loan back – there’s a catch. With no loan, there has to be something to wager, and the two gentlemen agree upon an answer: a pound of flesh. Shylock seems to offer this solution as a joke, shown better in the 2004 movie. However, Antonia agrees, despite Bassanio’s objection.
Antonio: Content, in faith I’ll seal such a bond / and say there is much kindness in the Jew.
Bassanio: You shall not seal to such a bond for me; / I’ll rather dwell in my necessity.
Antonio: Why fear not, man: I will not forfeit it. / Within these two months – that’s a month before / this bond expires – I do expect return / of thrice three times the value of this bond.
By looking at the conversation between the two gentlemen, it is clear to see the trust – and seemingly, affection – Antonio has for his friend, Bassanio. To the point he would gladly sacrifice a literal piece of himself to allow his friend the opportunity to gain a better, wealthier future.
As we progress further into Act 3, we will learn of Antonio’s fallen ships, and Shylock’s desire to collect his loan – or rather, Antonio’s flesh. It doesn’t take long for Antonio to agree to Shylock’s demands, taking the Duke will not allow it not to happen. His last words in Act 3, scene 3, are as follow: “Pray Bassanio come / to see me pay his debt, and then I care not.” These words spoken before Antonio knows he will lose a pound of his own flesh, to me, seems as though he cares less of losing his flesh, and more of seeing his friend before the possibility of losing his own life.
During the moment of Antonio agreeing to pay the debt for his friend, we learn of Bassanio’s luck with Portia. We are shown the rapid way the two speak, and how they seemingly try to one up one another. However, Portia allows young Bassanio to pick from the three caskets laden from her father. At this point, we know of two previous suitors who picked both the silver and gold casket – leading them both back out the door. However, Bassanio has better luck, as he picks the lead casket, and in turn wins the young maiden’s hand. Bassanio promises his future wife to never part with his ring, stating:
“Madam, you have bereft me of all my words. / Only my blood speaks to you in my veins, / and there is such confusion in my powers / as, after some oration fairly spoke / by a beloved prince, there doth appear / among the buzzing please multitude, / where every something being blent together / turns to a wild of nothing, save of joy / expressed and not expressed. But when this ring / parts from this finger, then parts life from hence, / O then be bold to say Bassanio’s dead.” (III.2.175-185)
Before scene 2 has played out, Bassanio receives a letter, informing him of Antonio’s fate. He immediately comes clean to Portia about his exaggerated state of being and informs her of his friend’s outcome. Upon seeing the worry of her near-husband for his friend, she offers to give him the money needed to repay the loan. By Portia offering to save Bassanio, I believe this shows her love for him – rather that love be romantic or platonic is hard to say.
The deeper we dive into each relationship, it is clear to see the love from Bassanio for both characters. Though to me, it seems as though he has the same type of feelings towards both. Knowing Shakespeare has written poems for another male, it definitely sways my mind to think it’s possible for Bassanio to feel similar ways about the two characters,