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Shakespeare’s Presentation of Antonio in The Merchant of Venice Essay

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Shakespeare’s Presentation of Antonio in The Merchant of Venice

Shakespeare’s portrayal of Antonio in ‘The Merchant of Venice’ is
decidedly open to interpretation, as his melancholic nature is
revealed at the start of the play and foreshadows his later bad luck,
but a specific reasoning behind it is never given. For an Elizabethan
audience, Antonio provides the perfect Christian protagonist to
Shylock’s evil Jewish antagonist, although our modern reception of him
is much more diverse and as such provides the audience with a greater
sense of suspense concerning his fate, and enigma surrounding his
personality. Arguably this was Shakespeare’s intention as Antonio is
perceived as being the eponymous merchant and much of the play
revolves around his plight, yet he appears in very few scenes himself,
and the only real idea we have of him is that portrayed by his
admirers (friends and fellow Christians) and his rivals (Shylock); the
audience is left to question his integrity.

The Italian setting for the play seems typical of Shakespearian
romantic-comedies, yet the inclusion of the bitter feud between the
Christian and the Jew interrupts the course of love, elevating the
dramatic impact of the play and making it more of a tragedy. A key
element of this tragedy is Antonio’s ambiguous relationship with “good
Bassanio”. The compliments on Antonio’s temperance by his peers are
further expressed by Bassanio as he emphasises the kindness and gentle
nature of Antonio, acknowledging that he already owes to him “the most
in money and in love” but feels quite confident that his friend will
help him one last time by providing the capital to woo ...


... middle of paper ...


...ne-dimensional gaudy villain, but a
complete human being with “organs, dimensions, senses, affections,
passions” just like everyone else. Antonio provides the perfect foil
to this debate and as such performs a crucial role in the play.

Whether viewed as a “moral and upright” Christian, or a hedonistic,
lonely man “grow[ing] exceedingly strange”, Antonio is certainly an
intriguing dramatic device used to explore the importance of
friendship and mercy; he legitimises his place in Venice at the play’s
conclusion and ensures that he will live a “content” life, but not
without destroying Shylock’s happiness first. He maintains an eerie
presence which resonates throughout the play, subtly influencing the
actions of others; Shakespeare’s presentation of him is purposefully
vague so that we make up our own minds about him.


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