Antonio has helped out his indigent friend Bassanio many times in the past. Antonio has something of a soft spot for Bassanio and will do whatever he can to help out a friend in need. Bassanio’s not very good at managing money, so he often comes to Antonio’s door in search of ready cash. This time’s no different. Currently in the process of wooing the wealthy Portia, he needs some money to at least give him a chance of winning her hand in marriage.
Once again, Antonio would dearly love to help out. But this time, there’s a major problem: Antonio has all his capital tied up in his fleet of ships and their valuable cargo. Under the circumstances, Antonio would be well within his rights to turn down his friend’s latest request. But being the big old softy he is, Antonio agrees to another handout.
However, as Antonio can’t get his hands on any of his own money, he can only allow Bassanio to make use of his credit line. He duly does so, borrowing the princely sum of 3,000 ducats from Shylock on Antonio’s line of credit. That’s why it’s Antonio, not Bassanio, who must forfeit a pound of flesh if the loan can’t be repaid.