Describe the nature of Bassanio's relationship with Portia in Merchant of Venice. Does Bassanio genuinely love Portia or is he just after the money?

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andrewnightingale's profile pic

andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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At the beginning of the play, we learn that Bassanio is eagerly desirous of going to Belmont, Portia's home. In his conversation with Antonio in Act 1, Scene 1, he makes it clear that he wishes to woo her and win her hand in marriage. He describes her in glowing terms and says that she is more beautiful than beautiful and that she possesses "wondrous virtues." He also mentions that Portia has shown an interest in him.

It seems odd, though, that the first thing Bassanio mentions about Portia is that she is "richly left." He also focuses his conversation on her physical attributes and the fact that her value is known far and wide. He does not once mention how he actually feels about her. The impression is created that Bassanio's primary interest in her is linked to her enormous wealth. As the sole heir to her deceased father's fortune, Portia is exceedingly rich.

We also learn that Bassanio is a spendthrift who consistently borrows money that he hardly ever repays. He apologizes to Antonio for not having paid his bills and promises to repay all his outstanding debts, plus the one he is about to make if Antonio decides to assist him in his venture. He sweet-talks Antonio by telling him that he has to compete against many other wealthy suitors and wishes that he has the means to do so. At the end of the scene, the kindhearted and generous Antonio asks Bassanio to inquire from whom he can make a loan on the basis of a surety that he, Antonio, will provide.

Bassanio is clearly a wastrel who enjoys the good life without considering the consequences of his prodigality. He is described as a scholar and a soldier and cannot be earning much to support his flamboyant lifestyle. Marriage to Portia will provide him access to even greater indulgences and a better life than the privileged, albeit parasitic, one that he has been living so far. Bassanio's interest in Portia seems, especially in the early parts of the play, more economic than romantic.

Portia, in contrast, seems to be truly smitten with Bassanio. During her conversation with Nerissa in Act 1, Scene 2, she exposes her sentiments by agreeing with her that he is "best deserving a fair lady." Later, in Act 3, Scene 2, when talking to Bassanio, she, in convoluted language, essentially tells him that she is all his, and that even though she does not yet officially belong to him she actually does (in her heart). Bassanio expresses a similar sentiment about her. The difference between the two is that his declaration is not as direct as hers, and he uses a very roundabout way of expressing his affection.

When Bassanio chooses the right casket, Portia joyously pours out her commitment to him in a fairly long speech. She gives him a ring to seal their union and asks that he never remove it. Bassanio is somewhat overwhelmed by her outpouring and promises that only death would part him from her gift. Bassanio, in spite of what he says, does not, even at this juncture, sound entirely convincing. 

Portia later displays her absolute commitment when she offers to pay all Antonio's debts. She is prepared to help out her fiance's best friend out of love for Bassanio. She later goes as far as disguising herself as a lawyer and defending Antonio against the malicious Shylock's claim for restitution. She essentially saves Antonio's life and humbles Shylock by cleverly using the law against him.

In the final scene of the play, Portia's farce about the ring that she had given Bassanio drives him almost to his wits' end. He apologizes profusely about having given the ring to the lawyer (Portia herself) who had saved his friend's life and begs her to understand. It becomes clear, once again, that Bassanio is prone to making promises he cannot keep. He has, essentially, pledged his life to retain the token of Portia's affection but gives it away at the first opportunity. He has been making similar promises to Antonio. Portia, however, relents when Antonio intervenes, and she forgives Bassanio his indiscretion and explains the whole story about her and Nerissa's disguises.

At the end of the play, one is still not quite sure about Bassanio's motives and whether he truly loves Portia or not. There is certainty about her, though, for she has shown her love and commitment both verbally and by her actions. He, on the other hand, never declares his love directly. All he ever does is suggest his affection through insinuation and innuendo.

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anzio45 | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

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The relationship between Portia and Bassanio is not an easy one to fathom. Bassanio himself is something of an enigma: Portia speaks very flatteringly of him but we see little of him other than as part of the Venetian boys-about-town who gather around the rich Antonio, really just parasites. Indeed he is already in debt to Antonio and wants to borrow considerably more to gamble on securing 'a lady richly left.' A bit of a chancer, it would appear. True, he does warn Antonio against Shylock's proposal and stands by him when things go wrong, but otherwise it is difficult to see why Portia seems so girlishly infatuated by him as he prepares to take the casket test. Pure physical attraction? It certainly looks like it.

After the trial, however, Portia seems much more in control, as the ring trick shows. It is almost as if, having got her man, she is now putting him in his place. If Portia is a control freak, could this prove to be a problem in future? Bassanio has been, among other things, something of an adventurer in the past, and might not long endure playing second fiddle to his rich wife. Otherwise the world that the pair inhabit at the end of the play seems nothing short of idyllic. Idyllic that is for the kind of wasters who now populate it.

kc4u's profile pic

kc4u | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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The relationship between Portia and Bassanio is apparently a stainless romantic relationship in Shakespeare's romantic comedy The Merchant of Venice. But, if one looks closely, there appears to be some scars in it. Critics have also suggested a possible homoerotic communion between Bassanio and Antonio. Does Antonio want to marry Portia for her wealth or is it just a sublime love at first sight situation? The three caskets scene creates an anti-materialistic context for the kind of love he has for Portia, but then, is it not his cunning judgement and a mere display of self-effacing love?

Bassanio also gives Portia's ring to Portia in disguise of the lawyer. Thus, their relation seems to commence on a betrayal, as it were. Looking at it from Portia's side, it is not a neutral relation either. Cunning has a greater role to play in her relation than passion and emotion. The way she makes Bassanio financially dependent, accepting the opportunity of clearing Antonio's debts gleefully, shows her great intelligence. She turns the situation on its head and assumes all power on her own. Even in the courtroom scene, she normativizes the Christian virtue of mercy as a universal human virtue to exclude the Jew. The letter of the law is what she resorts to than the spirit of the law as she dupes Shylock through his own language by literalizing the language of the pact. Some critics also feel, she does all this to show her power over Antonio, in the process estranging the two males. so, as one can see, the Portia-Bassanio relation is strongly driven by self-interest and hidden power-games.

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pragathi | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

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 Actually once bassanio visited Belmount when portia's father was alive ,there he saw portia and fell in love with her .He actually felt as though portia also conyed her agreement though her eyes .As some people say they conyed their love through their eyes.They wanted their relationship to last so they promised @the time of their marriage that if they part with the wedding ring they should also part their love also.

Although both of them were willing to marry each other there were some conditions for them to follow.1st bassanio had to go to belmount and choose the right casket ,for this he had to get /borrow some ducats from antonio as he did not have it it was borrowed from shylock. And don't FORGET the suitor who came to propose portia had to choose the right casket ;in case he chooses the wrong one he is banned to ask any other woman for her hand in marriage.  and they had a problem after the their marriage i think you know it. like this they had many problems