The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare
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Why would Antonio entrust Bassanio with the task of writing his epitaph in The Merchant of Venice?

In The Merchant of Venice, Antonio entrusts Bassanio with the task of writing his epitaph because he feels that their relationship is so close that Bassanio would write it well. In doing so, Antonio highlights their bond and demonstrates that he values Bassanio's life over his own, as Bassanio has offered to die in his place.

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In act 4, scene 1, when Antonio's ships have not come to port and he has no way to repay Shylock for his loan, Antonio fears he might have to give up his pound of flesh in repayment. As Shylock wants to cut the flesh from his heart,...

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In act 4, scene 1, when Antonio's ships have not come to port and he has no way to repay Shylock for his loan, Antonio fears he might have to give up his pound of flesh in repayment. As Shylock wants to cut the flesh from his heart, this is a death sentence for Antonio.

Since Antonio borrowed the money to help his young friend Bassanio woo Portia, Bassanio feels responsible and offers to take the punishment, saying,

The Jew shall have my flesh, blood, bones and all,
Ere thou shalt lose for me one drop of blood.
Antonio rejects this idea, pointing out that he is much older than Bassanio. He compares himself to the "tainted" sheep in the flock who deserves to die. Then he says,
You cannot better be employed, Bassanio,
Than to live still and write mine epitaph.
Antonio is making two points in the above quote. First, he is saying that he values Bassanio's life above his own. Second, he is pointing to what a close friend he considers Bassanio to be: he feels they are intimate enough that Bassanio could be trusted to find the most appropriate final words to put on his gravestone. By staying alive, Bassanio will keep Antonio's memory alive in the most fitting possible way, Antonio implies.
This implies, as some critics have noted, that Antonio has feelings for Bassanio that go beyond friendship: it has been suggested that Antonio is in love with the younger man, which is why he is willing to take such risks for him.
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