Identify two personality traits that Antonio and Portia have in common and give an example of each.

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Portia and Antonio share certain traits in “The Merchant of Venice”. The most obvious one is that they are both profoundly in love with Bassanio. Nerissa speaks very highly of him to Portia and Portia instantly recalls his name, though she quickly tries to play down her feelings: “Yes, yes, it was Bassanio! As I think…so was he called.” Meanwhile in Venice, Antonio is also tremendously in love with Bassanio, though he is very careful of how he expresses it until he is about to die when he urges Bassanio to:

Commend me to your honorable wife,

Tell her the process of Antonio’s end.

Say how I loved you; speak me fair in death,

And, when the tale is told, bid her be the judge

Whether Bassanio had not once a love.

Many scholars, directors and actors work from the assumption that Antonio is a deeply closeted gay man who feels he can’t express his true feelings for Bassanio safely. Bassanio himself seems completely oblivious to how Antonio feels about him despite the fact that he allows Antonio to go to incredibly dangerous lengths to give him money and protect him. Bassanio can therefore come across as rather coldhearted and clueless toward Antonio, and Antonio a sad, emotionally repressed man unable to truly be himself.

Another characteristic they share is deeply unpleasant: they're both racists. Both harbor serious hatred towards Jews: Shylock tells the story about when Antonio “spet upon my Jewish gabardine” and Portia refers to him dismissively as “Jew” many times throughout the trial scene. Earlier, when she is unsuccessfully courted by the prince of Morocco she contemptuously sneers “let all of his complexion choose me so” almost as soon as his back is turned. Shakespeare takes what is typically considered one of his great heroine roles and makes her ugly, and also takes the title character at the center of the play, who mostly elicits sympathy, and makes him in some ways ugly too. Shakespeare creates complex human beings who are sad and relatable and sympathetic and also quite ugly and unlikeable at the same time.

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