The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare

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Is Bassanio a selfish friend in The Merchant of Venice?

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Bassanio may not be a selfish friend to Antonio, but he is certainly a feckless one. Bassanio is not as selfish as Shylock, however, because Shylock's primary motivation for demanding his pound of flesh from Antonio is the desire to punish him. Bassanio, on the other hand, wants money for entirely self-centred reasons. Like Shylock, Bassanio shows no compassion for the agony that he is causing Antonio; he simply cares about getting his own way.

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I would argue that Bassanio is indeed a selfish friend to Antonio. He takes advantage of Antonio's generosity in trying to obtain some ready cash with which he plans to woo the lovely Portia. At no point does he seem to acknowledge that perhaps Antonio might end up in serious financial trouble as a result. To be fair to Bassanio, he doesn't force Antonio to cough up the money or resort to emotional blackmail; Antonio's a soft touch, and his excessive generosity has encouraged his friend to come looking for another hand-out.

Nevertheless, it's Bassanio's fecklessness that gets Antonio into serious debt and almost ends up killing him. Bassanio's not a bad person, by any means, but he lacks maturity when it comes to financial affairs. And this immaturity is indissolubly linked to a certain selfishness on his part. In seeking money from Antonio, Bassanio never stops to consider his friend's needs.

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Much has been made of the friendship between Bassanio and Antonio in Shakespeare's The Merchant of VeniceOften, readers note that both Bassanio and Antonio go to great lengths to help each other. While this fact is true, it's also worth considering that Bassanio is, in fact, quite selfish. For instance, Bassanio convinces Antonio to fund his efforts to woo Portia (which, it's worth mentioning, Bassanio does because he's broke and thinks Portia's fortune will help him financially), thus forcing his best friend to go into debt. While it's true that Bassanio then rushes to Antonio's aid when things with Shylock go sour, it's hard to avoid thinking that it was Bassanio's self-interested desire for money and love that got his friend into such a sticky situation. As such, even if Bassanio is at times a good friend, it's entirely reasonable to also consider him to be selfish.  

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