What are the similarities and differences between the relationship of Portia and Nerissa and that of Bassanio and Antonio?

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There are several interesting and significant relationships in The Merchant of Venice. Of course, one of the most important would be between Antonio and Bassanio . Their relationship has invited much discussion and remains the subject of much speculation in terms of the nature of their friendship. In terms...

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There are several interesting and significant relationships in The Merchant of Venice. Of course, one of the most important would be between Antonio and Bassanio. Their relationship has invited much discussion and remains the subject of much speculation in terms of the nature of their friendship. In terms of differences between relationships, the relationship between Portia and Nerissa is far less complicated.

Antonio would do anything for Bassanio, much as a father would do for a son, and Bassanio's reaction in the light of Shylock's proposed "bond" also suggests to me that there is an unexplained, familial-type relationship of care between the two. They are also both of a similar social standing, very relevant in Shakespeare's day. On the other hand, Nerissa is Portia's gentlewoman, and so her relationship is based more on her duty to Portia as her servant. The relationship between the two women does change and develop into so much more, but essentially she has a working relationship, and would be paid for carrying out her duties. Nerissa plays a very supportive role to Portia whereas Antonio and Bassanio have a more interdependent role.

Some of the similarities revolve around the level of commitment and loyalty which are prevalent in both relationships and how there is benefit from these relationships. The opportunistic Bassanio learns that his friendship is more important than creating an image for Portia. Antonio learns that his friend values his friendship.

Portia learns that she is not fighting her battles alone, important in the man's world within which she operates, and at the whim of her "dead father," especially as she tries to manipulate the situation in favor of Bassanio. Nerissa gains respect and operates as Portia's equal despite her social standing.

For Bassanio and Antonio, there is no need to prove their friendship. It is unquestioned, whereas Nerissa has no doubt earned Portia's respect.

There is no hesitation in either friendship, even as boundaries are tested. Ultimately, their friendships collectively contribute to rounded characters and bring a depth to the play as a whole.

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Portia and Nerissa are close friends, as are Antonio and Bassanio. However, Nerissa is a servant and Portia is her employer, so this is not a relationship between two equals. Antonio has more money than Bassanio, but they are social equals. One does not have to wait on the other.

In both cases, one person in the relationship helps the other. Nerissa offers Portia solace and support as Portia navigates the casket test her father has set up to chose her husband. She also willingly disguises herself as a male law clerk to support Portia in her role of male attorney. Nerissa shows loyalty above and beyond what a servant normally owes an employer.

Antonio, like Nerissa, exhibits more than ordinary loyalty. He takes out a loan from Shylock with a risky penalty to help Bassanio to marry. Unlike Nerissa, however, Antonio is not paired up to be married.

In fact, some critics have noted the homoerotic element in Antonio's love for Bassanio, which seems to go far beyond platonic feelings of friendship. Portia and Nerissa, however, seem to simply have an everyday, if loyal, friendship.

In both cases, Shakespeare celebrates same-sex friendship. As in most Shakespeare plays, people depend on their friends to survive and for solace.

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First of all, the similarities:

Portia and Nerissa are close friends and confidantes as are their male counterparts. Both Nerissa and Antonio go to extreme lengths to aid their friends. Nerissa is willing to cross-dress and deceive the Courts without knowing the reason. When she questions Portia, she is told: "I'll tell thee all my whole device...When I am in my coach..." (3.5.81-82). Antonio is willing to barter a pound of flesh with the Jew in a loan for Bassanio, so he can attempt to win Portia's hand: "Yes, Shylock, I will seal unto this bond" (1.3.172). One character in each of the couples (Portia and Antonio, respectively) has power and wealth.

However, it is here the similarities appear to end. Nerissa is a friend but also Portia's waiting-gentlewoman, and she becomes more of an equal in the romantic plot as both Nerissa and Portia are involved in the ring exchange. Nerissa is a co-conspirator and friend. On the other hand, Antonio appears to aid Bassanio out of his own self-interest. In fact, his love for Antonio is so great that upon, what he believes are his last moments of life, he proclaims: "Say how I lov'd you...bid her be the judge...Whether Bassanio had not once a love" (4.1.276-278). Bassanio replies,"But life itself,my wife ...Are not with me esteem'd above thy life" (4.1.285-286). Hmmm. I would suggest that Antonio's relationship with Bassanio is much more complicated than the one between Portia and Nerissa.

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