Who are the two most important characters in Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice," and why are they important?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The two most important characters in William Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" are Antonio, the title character, a businessman who, hoping to help a friend, Bassanio, win the heart of the woman he loves, Portia, agrees to an unconventional financial arrangement with the other most important character, Shylock, a wealthy Jewish moneylender.  Antonio, a virulent antisemite, borrows the money Bassanio needs from Shylock.  Confident in his ability to repay the loan, Antonio agrees to Shylock's terms, which involves the payment of a pound of his flesh if he cannot repay the money to Shylock.  

"The Merchant of Venice" is a complicated play, with relationships among characters contributing to the complexity and the use of disguises by Portia and Nerissa during the trial adding to the sense of confusion.

While Antonio and Shylock are the two main characters, Portia could be considered as or more important that Antonio, despite the latter's centrality to the proceedings.  Her role as the object of Bassnio's desire, as well of her other suiters, and the importance of her contributions during the trial -- along with the enduring legacy of her speech on the quality of mercy ["The quality of mercy is not strained, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven, Upon the place beneath.  It is twice blessed...Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.  But mercy is above this sceptred sway, It is entrhoned in the hearts of kings, it is an attribute to God himself...Therefore Jew, Though justice be thy plea, consider this, That in the course of justice we allmust see salvation, We all do pray for mercy And that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy."] attests to her great importance among the characters in Shakespeare's play.

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The Merchant of Venice

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