The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare

Start Free Trial

Discussion Topic

The melancholy of Antonio and Portia in The Merchant of Venice


Antonio's melancholy in The Merchant of Venice stems from an unexplained sadness, possibly linked to his financial ventures or unrequited affection for Bassanio. Portia's melancholy arises from her lack of control over her own life, particularly in choosing a husband, as her father's will dictates that her suitor must pass a test involving caskets to win her hand.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Why is Antonio sad in Act 1, Scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice?

It is unclear exactly what mad Antonio sad. He himself does not know either.

In sooth, I know not why I am so sad:
It wearies me; you say it wearies you;
But how I caught it, found it, or came by it,
What stuff 'tis made of, whereof it is born,
I am to learn;
And such a want-wit sadness makes of me,
That I have much ado to know myself.

He acknowledges in these opening lines that he does not know the reasons for his sadness and mentions that he has much to learn to establish exactly what causes it. This depressed feeling makes him feel tired and he admits to Salarino and Salanio that it seems have become tiresome for them as well. He suggests that he has much to do, probably some serious introspection, to understand his melancholy.

Salarino suggests that Antonio's mood is caused by his concerns over his trade ships at sea where they are at the mercy of the waves over which they rock and duck. Antonio replies that if his thoughts had been caught up in his ventures across the oceans, he would be testing the wind and seeking its direction and he would be studying maps in search of ports and safe harbours. He would be searching for any object that might put his ventures at risk if he had such doubts. The implication is, therefore, that it is not worry about his ships which makes him sad. 

Salanio, however, believes otherwise, and uses a number of metaphors to describe the kind of dangers that Antonio's ships might be facing, such as the fact that they might get damaged by terrible winds or that they may be caught on a windless ocean or get banked in the sand when the tide is too low. He believes that should one have such thoughts, it would indeed be saddening. It is because of these concerns, he peruses, that Antonio is so despondent.

Antonio, however, assures him that it is not so since he has not entrusted all his fortune to one ship or one destination only. Furthermore, he has also not invested his entire fortune solely in these seafaring ventures or risked it in the hope of success for that year only. His thoughts therefore do not dwell on his merchandise.

When Salarino suggests that he might then be in love, Antonio fiercely dismisses the idea. At this, Salarino mentions that:

Then let us say you are sad,
Because you are not merry: and 'twere as easy
For you to laugh and leap and say you are merry,
Because you are not sad.

The only reason, therefore, for Antonio being sad is that he is not happy.

Some commentators have suggested that Antonio's sadness probably stems from the fact that he realizes that he will soon lose the company of his best friend and companion, Bassanio, to that of a seemingly beautiful and wealthy young maiden, Portia with whom Bassanio has become infatuated. He has already been told about her by Bassanio, and does not relish the idea of losing touch with him. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does Antonio describe his sadness in Act 1, Scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice?

In Act 1, Scene 1, Antonio is in a depressed mood and his two friends begin to wonder why he is so upset. Antonio says that he doesn't know why he is in such a depressed mood, but feels extremely tired and confused. Antonio tries to think about how he became so upset, but cannot seem to understand why he is in such a terrible mood. He tells Salerio and Solanio that he feels so muddled and cannot seem to think clearly. When both Salerio and Solanio suggest that he is upset because his merchandise is out at sea in treacherous waters, Antonio denies the assumption that he is upset about his ships and investments. Antonio also denies Solanio's assumption that he is in love. Antonio then laments to Gratiano that he was destined to play a sad role in life. Similar to his friends, Antonio also seems to be confused about the cause of his depressed mood.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Describe Antonio and Portia's melancholy in act 2 of The Merchant of Venice.

In The Merchant of Venice, both Antonio and Portia are in a melancholy mood. Portia is upset that she is unable to choose a husband of her own due to her deceased father's lottery. She is bound to follow the wishes of a man, and a dead man at that, and feels powerless. Although she is committed to keeping the oath she made to her late father, the prospect of it gives her no joy. As she expressed to Nerrisa in act 1, Portia is none too pleased with having so little agency in choosing her husband and has been underwhelmed by the suitors so far. In act 2, we see that Portia is very much relieved that the Prince of Morocco and the Prince of Arragon fail the casket test.

For his part, Antonio has also been in a melancholy state of mind since the play's opening scene where he describes his mood to Salarino and Solanio. However, he is not sure why he feels this way. He claims that it isn't because of his many precarious investments. In act 2, scene 8, Salarino and Solanio speculate that Antonio may be feeling down since the departure of his good friend Bassanio. While Bassanio's absence may be a reason for Antonio's disposition, this does not explain everything, since Antonio has been in a sour mood since the play's beginning. Salarino and Solanio also speculate that Antonio may be worried about his investments, particularly after the news of a Venetian ship being lost near England. Although Antonio previously stated that his investments are diversified enough to avoid a major loss, this is still troubling news and is probably weighing on Antonio's mind.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on