who are the "good" characters and the "bad" ones in The Merchant of Venice

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While the terms "good" and "bad" are subjective, and each character displays positive and negative qualities, this is a relatively straightforward overview categorizing each of the main characters as either "good" or "bad."

Shylock (Bad): He is portrayed as greedy and malicious. Shylock is a Jew, and a moneylender who lends Antonio money under the condition that he take a pound of his flesh if the bond is forfeited. While Shakespeare creates sympathy for Shylock by illustrating how he is marginalized, ridiculed, and discriminated, he is still depicted as the primary villain throughout the play.

Antonio (Good): His generosity and love for Bassanio are evident throughout the play, and Antonio is depicted as a loyal, compassionate friend.

Bassanio (Good): He is portrayed as a genuine friend and passionate lover throughout the play. Bassanio is willing to travel across seas to find love and returns quickly to Venice once he learns of Antonio's dire circumstances.

Portia (Good): She is depicted as the play's heroine. Portia is an intelligent, fair woman, who obeys her father's wish by agreeing to marry the man that picks the right casket.

Nerissa and Gratiano (Good): Both characters are portrayed as loyal friends, who have a capacity for love and compassion.

Lorenzo and Jessica (Good): Despite their dishonesty throughout the play, both characters are portrayed as caring individuals. Lorenzo is willing to go to great lengths to be with Jessica, and she is willing to abandon her oppressive father's home to be with Lorenzo.

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"Good" and "bad" is going to be really subjective for this play.  For example, Bassanio is not generally portrayed as a "bad" guy, but a case could be made for it.  He's bad with money, puts Antonio in a horrible financial situation, and is likely marrying Portia because she is rich and good-looking.

"In Belmont is a lady richly left, / And she is fair"

I think Bassanio is a bad guy for those reasons. I wouldn't like to be his friend anyway.  

I could claim the same thing about Portia, too. I'm really glad that she saved Antonio from Shylock's "pound of flesh" thing. But I just can't shake the feeling that she enjoys stringing Antonio and Shylock along the entire time. Shylock eventually agrees to not take the pound of flesh and pay the money instead. Portia could have been okay with that, but she wanted to see Shylock punished to the exact letter of the law that he wanted enforced so badly. So she has Shylock stripped of most of his property and wealth. It's just mean, especially since in that same act she asked Shylock to show mercy. I don't get it. She clearly didn't show mercy. Portia could definitely be a "bad" guy.  

But all of the above is me being a standard English teacher and playing the devil's advocate. The first time I read the play, none of the above went through my head. I thought Antonio, Bassanio, Portia, and the rest were "good" guys, because clearly Shylock is the bad guy. How could he not be? He's a loan shark that wants a pound of flesh. That's just gross.   

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