The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare
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Is Bassanio truly in love with Portia in The Merchant of Venice?

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One could argue that Bassanio is not in love with Portia and is simply using her as a way to gain enough money to pay off his enormous debts. In act one, scene one, Bassanio petitions Antonio to lend him money for the journey to Belmont, where he will hopefully...

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One could argue that Bassanio is not in love with Portia and is simply using her as a way to gain enough money to pay off his enormous debts. In act one, scene one, Bassanio petitions Antonio to lend him money for the journey to Belmont, where he will hopefully win Portia's heart and share her wealth. Bassanio begins his conversation by lamenting about his propensity to acquire debt and poor money-management skills before introducing his plan to court Portia. Bassanio tells Antonio,

In Belmont is a lady richly left, And she is fair and—fairer than that word—Of wondrous virtues. Sometimes from her eyes I did receive fair speechless messages. Her name is Portia, nothing undervalued To Cato’s daughter, Brutus' Portia (1.1.163–168).

If one were to examine Bassanio's description of Portia, he in no way indicates that he plans on falling in love with Portia. Bassanio's primary motivation is to become rich, and he views Portia as his ticket. Even after Bassanio chooses the right casket, he immediately leaves Belmont to save Antonio. At Antonio's hearing, Bassanio also reveals that he has more love for Antonio than Portia by saying,

Antonio, I am married to a wife Which is as dear to me as life itself. But life itself, my wife, and all the world Are not with me esteemed above thy life (4.1.273–276).

Bassanio also agrees to part with his ring, which Portia instructed him to never give up. Overall, there is enough evidence to suggest that Bassanio is only interested in Portia for her money, and he has more feelings for Antonio than her.

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Different readers will be able to defend this either way as their own opinion of Bassanio is formed; however, I do not believe that he is truly in love with Portia. I believe that Bassanio is in love with the idea of having Portia as his wife. She is definitely the kind of woman that men desire. She is both attractive and wealthy.

In Belmont is a lady richly left;
And she is fair, and, fairer than that word,
Of wondrous virtues: sometimes from her eyes
I did receive fair speechless messages:
Her name is Portia, nothing undervalued
To Cato's daughter, Brutus' Portia

Wooing Portia and winning that conquest not only grants the winner a trophy wife and a fortune, but also the envy of other men. Bassanio even tells Antonio that other men are trying to win Portia's affections:

Nor is the wide world ignorant of her worth,
For the four winds blow in from every coast
Renowned suitors, and her sunny locks
Hang on her temples like a golden fleece;
Which makes her seat of Belmont Colchos' strand,
And many Jasons come in quest of her.

I just can't confidently state that Bassanio is in love with a woman that he wants to call his own in order to selfishly raise his personal reputation in society.

O my Antonio, had I but the means
To hold a rival place with one of them,
I have a mind presages me such thrift
That I should questionless be fortunate!
It's entirely possible that his feelings turn toward actual love as the play progresses; however, it is difficult to dismiss his initial reasons for pursuing Portia in the first place.

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I'm sure many people can answer this question in just as many different ways, but for my reading of this play, I would answer that Bassanio is not truly in love with Portia.  My explanation is this:  Bassanio has lost his fortune through wasteful spending and needs another one.  Portia has such a fortune left to her by her dead father.  So, Portia is his "quest".  Now, it doesn't hurt that Portia is beautiful.  In fact, Bassinio describes her in Act I scene i in the play as "fair and fairer than that word/ of wondrous virtues".  He recognizes that she is the perfect woman...with money.  He also enjoys the risk in wooing her...he has put everything on the line...rather like having to shoot a second arrow in order to find out where the first one landed, his "risk" is double or nothing.

Unless Bassinio disregards his need for the money that winning Portia's heart and hand in marriage brings, I don't see how anyone viewing or reading this play could argue that he truly pursues her for love alone.

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