The Merchant of Venice Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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Compare Antonio with Bassanio and Portia with Shylock in The Merchant Of Venice.

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Antonio and Bassanio are very close friends but are different in character. Antonio accuses Shylock of usury (lending money with a high interest rate) whereas Shylock accuses Antonio of lending money with no interest. This dichotomy seems to establish Antonio as a generous businessman (or a bad one) and Shylock as a greedy businessman (or a smart one). Antonio is more complicated than this, as is Shylock.

At the beginning of the play, Antonio exhibits a melancholy that is never fully revealed. Some critics speculate that he is unhappy in his position as a moneylender given his generous nature. However, he must have some business sense (charging some interest) in order to even stay in business, so saying he is generous and Shylock is greedy is much too simplistic. Bassanio, in the end, turns out to be nearly as loyal a friend to Antonio as Antonio is to Bassanio. But Bassanio is more impulsive, more irresponsible. Like Shylock and Antonio, Bassanio is more complicated. He is impulsive and maybe even selfish in gambling with Antonio's money in pursuit of a woman (and her money). But in the end, he offers himself and his newfound money in order to save his friend Antonio. 

Portia is praised by nearly everyone in the play. She seems genuinely in love with Bassanio. She manages to work around her predicament of having to marry the one who solves the riddle. And she manages to outsmart everyone by freeing Antonio. But while she preaches mercy (disguised) in order to persuade Shylock to free Antonio, she does not show Shylock any mercy. This is where the (at that time) antisemitism comes in: it posits...

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