What is the relationship between Antonio and Bassanio?
Antonio and Bassanio are the closest of friends, and it is their relationship in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice that provides the foundation of the play’s two-pronged plot. Antonio is the titular merchant whose business arrangements weigh heavily on his demeanor. While a risky business strategy occupies his time and thoughts, however, it is his friend’s seeming predicament regarding the beautiful, wealthy Portia that most troubles him. An early indication of the closeness of these two characters is provided early in the play when Antonio speaks with two of his friends, Salanio and Salarino. Salanio and Salarino are questioning Antonio regarding the latter’s sadness when Salanio observes the approach of Bassanio, prompting his comment, “Here comes Bassanio, your most noble kinsman.” Following their departure, as well as that of Lorenzo and Gratiano, Antonio and Bassanio engage in the conversation that leads Antonio into the fateful arrangement with Shylock, the Jewish moneylender:
To you, Antonio,
I owe the most, in money and in love,
And from your love I have a warranty
To unburden all my plots and purposes
How to get clear of all the debts I owe.
I pray you, good Bassanio, let me know it;
And if it stand, as you yourself still do,
Within the eye of honour, be assured,
My purse, my person, my extremest means,
Lie all unlock'd to your occasions.
The strength of this relationship, the depth of the love these two men hold for one another, is such that Antonio will agree to pay Shylock a pound of his flesh should he fail to repay the moneylender within the agreed upon time. The purpose of the loan, of course, is to facilitate Bassanio’s pursuit of Portia.
Antonio is the merchant who is very generous, particularly with his good friends. Bassanio needs money in order to woo Portia. Even though all of Antonio's money is tied up in products yet to be sold, he agrees to help Bassanio because they are such close friends. Antonio is such a loyal friend to Bassanio that he agrees to borrow money from Shylock with the stipulation that Shylock can exact a pound of flesh from Antonio if he does not repay the loan within the agreed-upon time frame.
Bassanio is more impulsive and irresponsible (especially with money). And although he is loyal to Antonio, he does take advantage of his generosity; the attempt to woo Portia (and thereby inherit the vast amount of money of her estate by marrying her) is a gamble that he is willing to take with Antonio's money and the pound of flesh. However, Bassanio does reveal that he is more than a self-indulgent gambler who takes advantage of his friend. He is a very loyal friend just as Antonio is to him. He offers Shylock twice the amount he'd loaned to Antonio. Shylock refuses and then Bassanio offers to give his own flesh instead of Antonio's:
Good cheer, Antonio! What, man! Courage yet!
The Jew shall have my flesh, blood, bones, and all,
Ere thou shalt lose for me one drop of blood. (IV.i.113-15)
In the end, neither Antonio nor Bassanio are cut because a disguised Portia discovers a technicality in the agreement that no blood can be shed. In the earlier case, Bassanio needs money and Antonio helps him. In the later case, Antonio is facing a potentially fatal injury and Bassanio offers to take his place.