The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

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At a Glance

  • In The Merchant of Venice, Antonio is a merchant who helps his friend Bassanio win Portia’s hand in marriage by borrowing money from Shylock.

  • Shylock is a Jewish moneylender who lends Antonio the money that Bassanio needs to woo Portia. However, if Antonio defaults on the loan, Shylock will take a pound of Antonio’s flesh.

  • Portia is an heiress whose fortune attracts an array of suitors. After Bassanio wins her hand, she disguises herself as a lawyer in order to free Antonio from Shylock's bond.

  • Bassanio is Antonio’s friend who is irresponsible with money. He wins the right to marry Portia by correctly selecting from among three caskets. 

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Characters

Antonio

In William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, Antonio is the Venetian merchant for whom the play is titled. He is Bassanio’s wealthy, loyal, and anti-Semitic friend. Bassanio asks Antonio to help him secure the funds he needs to woo Portia, a wealthy heiress. Antonio agrees to borrow the money on Bassanio’s behalf. The Jewish moneylender Shylock, with whom Antonio shares a mutual animosity, agrees to lend Antonio the money. However, he asks that Antonio forfeit “a pound of flesh” if he defaults on the loan. Antonio’s conflict with Shylock animates the primary action of the play. (Read extended character analysis of Antonio.)

Bassanio

Bassanio is the merchant Antonio’s “intimate friend” and the wealthy heiress Portia’s favored suitor. A young nobleman of Venice, Bassanio admits to living beyond his means. This has forced him to borrow money from Antonio on numerous occasions. At the start of William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, Bassanio asks Antonio to lend him money so that he can travel to Belmont and court Portia as a man of means. Antonio instead suggests that Bassanio secure a loan through a moneylender and offers to be the guarantor for the loan. Antonio indebts himself to the Jewish moneylender Shylock on Bassanio’s behalf. (Read extended character analysis of Bassanio.)

Portia

Portia is a beautiful, intelligent, and wealthy heiress from Belmont. Her father’s will stipulates that she can only marry the man who manages to solve a riddle involving three caskets made of different metals. The caskets are made of gold, silver, and lead. The person who successfully chooses the casket with Portia’s portrait in it wins her hand in marriage. Due to her wealth and beauty, Portia has many suitors. However, her father’s will has left her powerless to decide which one she weds. Portia resents this, and subtly helps Bassanio, her favored suitor, solve the riddle so that they can marry. (Read extended character analysis of Portia.)

Shylock

Shylock is a wealthy Jewish moneylender from Venice and Jessica's father. He lends Antonio and Bassanio the 3,000 ducats that Bassanio needs to pursue Portia. However, Shylock stipulates that if Antonio defaults on the loan, he will owe Shylock a pound of his flesh. This contract spurs the central plot of the play. When Antonio defaults on the loan, Shylock attempts to extract his pound of flesh. However, thanks to Portia’s intervention, Antonio is saved and Shylock is forced to relinquish half of his fortune. He is also forced to convert to Christianity. Shylock is left humiliated after being robbed of his money, his faith, and his dignity. (Read extended character analysis of Shylock.)

Jessica

Jessica is Shylock’s daughter. In a bid to escape her unhappy family home, she elopes with Lorenzo, a penniless Christian. She converts to Christianity as a consequence of marrying Lorenzo. Before leaving Shylock’s house, she steals a chest full of ducats and family heirlooms. Among those heirlooms is a turquoise ring given to Shylock by his late wife, Leah. After eloping, Jessica and Lorenzo travel to Belmont and eventually arrive at Portia’s estate. When Portia leaves to attend Antonio’s trial, she leaves Jessica and Lorenzo in charge of her estate. (Read extended character analysis of Jessica.)

Lorenzo

Lorenzo is a...

(The entire section is 1,586 words.)