The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare
Start Free Trial

Please write an essay entitled, "Who is the hero of The Merchant of Venice?" There are two possible definitions of the word "hero": (1) The central protagonist and (2) a central protagonist who we are expected to admire or sympathize with. Examine the possible candidates in the light of both these definitions.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

On the first definition, one could argue that Antonio is the hero of The Merchant of Venice, whereas according to the latter definition, the hero would be Portia.

Given that Antonio is the protagonist of the play—in fact, the play is named after him—he's undoubtedly the hero according...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

On the first definition, one could argue that Antonio is the hero of The Merchant of Venice, whereas according to the latter definition, the hero would be Portia.

Given that Antonio is the protagonist of the play—in fact, the play is named after him—he's undoubtedly the hero according to the first definition. Furthermore, Antonio is a hero in that he shows himself willing to take on the burden of debt for his friend Bassanio, despite the nature of Shylock's "merry bond."

In relation to the second definition, however, one could argue that Portia is the true hero of the piece, as we're supposed to admire her for her actions. Above all, what we're expected to find admirable is the clever way in which she uses the law to save Antonio's life. By putting a novel interpretation on the terms of Shylock's contract with Antonio, she prevents the moneylender from having his pound of flesh.

Even though one is undoubtedly supposed to find Portia the hero of the play, successive generations of theater-goers and critics alike have found it difficult to admire someone who connives in the legal travesty that culminates in Shylock being expected to convert to Christianity as Antonio demands.

Though in some respects, both Antonio and Portia are heroes, there's nothing remotely heroic about their part in pressurizing Shylock to convert to Christianity.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on