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The protagonist in The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare is often considered to be Antonio, as he is the character through whom all the other characters in the play are connected.
Antonio is a merchant in Venice (note the title of the play). He is rich and makes grand investments buying and selling goods from all over the world; he also loans money at no interest, which certainly does not endear him to the Jewish moneylender, Shylock. Bassanio is Antonio’s friend, and through Bassanio we meet Portia and all the people connected to her plot line.
It is true, however, that Shylock has many of the most-quoted and most-remembered lines in the play and a case might be made that he is the protagonist; he is the one who takes action while Antonio takes a rather passive role. Despite that, he is not involved in the resolution of the play, so perhaps he is not the best choice.
Portia also drives much of the plot in this story, and she is there from beginning to end. While she claims she is trapped and cannot make her own choices, she certainly manages to get a lot accomplished either directly on her behalf.
While Antonio is certainly antagonistic toward Shylock, Shylock is generally considered to be the antagonist of this story. When Antonio cannot pay his debt to Shylock, Shylock takes him to court purely for spite and revenge. When asked by the court why he is doing so, he answers:
So can I give no reason, nor I will not,
More than a lodged hate and a certain loathing
I bear Antonio, that I follow thus
A losing suit against him.
If Shylock is the protagonist, Antonio has to be the antagonist. While his behaviors are certainly antagonizing to Shylock, they probably do not rise to the same level of hatred as Shylock’s actions.
Outside of his cruel, anti-Semitic behavior toward Shylock, Antonio does display the admirable Christian qualities of generosity, kindness, and friendship. He is a rather complicated character with at least one egregious character flaw, but he could be the protagonist in this play.
Antonio, Shylock, Bassanio, and Portia are the main character in The Merchant of Venice
Antonio was a well respected businessman of Venice. He often loaned money out to help people but when his best friend Bassanio asked to borrow money he could not helped him because his money was all tied up at that time.
Bassanio a good friend of Antonio wanted to travel attempt to win the hand of Portia, but in order to pay for the expenses he would need a loan. As long as he could pay the travel expenses he would appear a noble man.
Shylock was a Jewish man living in a time when the Jewish religion was considered evil. He was ridiculed by everyone in the city including Antonio. This is who Antonio and Bassiano go to to borrow money from. Shylock saw his chance to seek revenge without punishment. He agrees to loan the money on the condition if it is not paid back within 3 months then Antonio will owe him a pound of his own flesh.
Portia was wealthy heiress who had suitors lining up from all over to have her hand in marriage. The suitors had to choose between a lead, gold or silver casket and the one containing her picture would be the one she married. Bassiano whom she loved picked the right casket, the lead one. She devised a plan along with her maids help to save her husband's good friend Antonio.
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