The major characters of The Merchant of Venice are Bassanio, Antonio, Portia, Shylock, Lorenzo and Jessica. These are the characters involved in the main love plots of the play. As is typical of Shakespeare, the two love plots are interconnected. The other characters in the play are minor, and exist either for comic purposes or as ancillary in furthering the plot.
The minor characters can be distinguished in several ways. First, characters without names who often appear in groups and are labelled by roles (magnificoes, officers, jailer, servants and attendants) are usually minor. Friends, who support the main characters in certain scenes (Gratiano, Solanio, Salarino, Salerio and Tubal) are considerd "supporting characters". Servants are crucial for furthering the plot, and often have important roles and speeches (e.g. the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet) but because they are not protagonists of the main plot but just serve to act for the protagonists are normally considered monor (e.g. Nerissa, Lancelot Gobbo, Leonardo) The suitors to Portia only serve to show her character and popularity and have no other significant function, and thus are minor, as is the Duke of Venice.