The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare is distinguished for having several striking and memorable characters, including several strong female ones and the unsettling but fascinating Shylock. The main characters of the play are as follows:
- Antonio: A wealthy merchant, Antonio is a close friend to Bassanio and loans him money to help him woo Portia. Antonio is known for his noble and generous character. Some critics have speculated that Antonio, one of the few characters without an overt love interest in the play, may actually be in love with Bassanio. According to this reading, his self-sacrificing generosity is an expression of that love in a period when gay relationships were illegal, but other scholars argue that intense expression of same-sex friendship was common in the period and did not imply sexual interest.
- Bassanio: A young man from a noble family who has wasted his money on luxurious living, he asks Antonio for a loan so he can woo the rich heiress Portia in style. Although he appears attracted to Portia and likes Antonio, many readers see him as a lazy spendthrift who exploits others.
- Jessica: Jessica is the daughter of Shylock who eventually elopes with Lorenzo, steals from her father, and converts to Christianity.
- Portia: A wealthy heiress, Portia is noble and clever and wants to marry Bassanio rather than one of her other suitors.
- Shylock: Shylock is a wealthy Jewish merchant who has suffered from anti-Semitism and feels bitter and exploited because of the way he is treated by Christians.
The major characters in The Merchant of Venice are:
Shylock - A Jewish moneylender in Venice.
Portia - A wealthy heiress from Belmont.
Antonio - The merchant whose love for his friend Bassanio prompts him to sign Shylock’s contract and almost lose his life.
Bassanio - A gentleman of Venice, and a kinsman and dear friend to Antonio.
Graziano - A friend of Bassanio’s who accompanies him to Belmont.
Jessica - Shylock’s daughter, Jessica hates life in her father’s house, and elopes with the young Christian gentleman, Lorenzo.
Lorenzo - A friend of Bassanio and Antonio, Lorenzo is in love with Shylock’s daughter, Jessica.
Shylock is the puzzling character, one who is persecuted, and bloodthirsty. He is obviously the antagonist of the novel. Portia is the heroine of the novel. She is beautiful, and sweet, and will change Shylock. Antonio is the self-tortured character in the book. He is depressed, quite melancholy, and one believes it must be due to a love lost or never gained.