The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare

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What is the reason for Antonio's melancholy in The Merchant of Venice?

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Antonio is portrayed as a melancholy character from the outset of the play. In the first scene, Antonio's friends, Salarino and Solanio, insist that Antonio is upset and depressed about his ships. Antonio is a wealthy merchant whose money is invested in his ships. Antonio's ships are currently out at sea, where they are subjected to the treacherous waves. However, Antonio denies this explanation for his melancholy disposition and mentions that he has no idea why he is so depressed.

Another possible explanation for Antonio's melancholy mood concerns his feelings towards Bassanio. Bassanio is much younger than Antonio and seeks Portia's hand in marriage. Being that Antonio is such a close friend of Bassanio's, he may be upset that his best friend is seeking marriage, which means that he will get to spend less time with him. Similar to this explanation is the argument that Antonio is in love with Bassanio and is depressed about losing him.

Another cause for Antonio's sadness may concern his inability to readily lend Bassanio money to travel to Belmont. Antonio is forced to borrow money from Shylock, who agrees to loan him the money on the condition that he exact a pound of his flesh if the loan is forfeited. The audience is aware that Antonio does not favor Shylock, and Antonio mentions that he never agrees to lend or borrow money with interest when he visits Shylock. Antonio quickly becomes worried about forfeiting his loan when he receives terrible news regarding his ships. After hearing the rumors concerning the dire condition of his vessels, Antonio becomes even more depressed, knowing that his life is in danger.

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It is obvious that Antonio is, indeed, suffering from melancholy in William Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice; however, the exact cause of his melancholy is not as obvious. He has friends (a fact that is demonstrated many times throughout the play) as well as enemies; he has money and he loses money; he likes to give but he is also driven to make money. All of these are elements which might cause conflict for a man, so several things are possible contributors to his melancholy state.

First, though he would like to, Antonio is unable to loan his friend, Bassanio, the money he wants to court Portia. Unfortunately, Antonio agrees to secure any loan Bassanio gets from anyone else and ends up in debt to his kind-of enemy, Shylock, a spiteful usurer who will eventually demand "a pound of flesh" from Antonio.

Second, all his ships (which are, of course, the source of his income) are at first loaded with goods which will provide him a handsome profit; however, Antonio eventually loses everything. This would certainly be cause for anyone to feel a sense of despair.

The final cause of Antonio's melancholy might stem from a kind of internal conflict between his natural tendency to be generous and his constant need, as a merchant, to make money. This dichotomy would, perhaps, cause the kind of melancholy Antonio demonstrates throughout the play. 

Whatever the cause, Antonio is a sad figure in this play. He says of himself: 

I hold the world but as the world...

A stage where every man must play a part

And mine a sad one.

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Why is Antonio sad in The Merchant of Venice?

The first line in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice belongs to Antonio, the merchant of Venice.

ANTONIO: In sooth, I know not why I am so sad. [1.1.1]

Hamlet says the same thing.

HAMLET: I have of late—but wherefore I know not—
lost all my mirth. [Hamlet, 2.2.301-302]

The difference between Hamlet and Antonio is that Hamlet knows exactly why he's lost all his mirth, and at that moment he's playing words with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who are trying to "glean" what they can from Hamlet to report back to Claudius.

Antonio has good cause to be sad later in the play, when he believes that all of his ships are lost at sea and his debt of "a pound of flesh" comes due to Shylock. At the beginning of the play, however, even Antonio can't figure out what's causing his sadness.

Antonio rejects out-of-hand the possible reasons for his sadness that Salanio and Salerio give him—that he's worried about his ships at sea or that he's in love.

SALANIO: Why, then you are in love.

ANTONIO: Fie, fie! [1.1.47-48]

Some scholars believe that the cause of Antonio's sadness is that he's already missing his best friend, Bassanio, who is hoping to marry Portia and plans to move away to be with her.

Gratiano suggests that Antonio wants to appear melancholy in order to enhance his reputation as a thoughtful, serious, respectable merchant.

GRATIANO: O, my Antonio, I do know of these,
That therefore only are reputed wise,
For saying nothing; who, I am very sure,
If they should speak, would almost damn those ears
Which, hearing them, would call their brothers, fools.
I'll tell thee more of this another time:
But fish not with this melancholy bait,
For this fool-gudgeon, this opinion. [1.1.99-106]

If this is the case, Antonio is simply putting on an act, just like Hamlet did, except that Antonio hasn't "put an antic disposition on." [1.5.192] Antonio is just acting sad so he appears more reserved and dignified to those around him.

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Why is Antonio sad in The Merchant of Venice?

Shakespeare never directly tells us the answer! As you suggest, his friends suggest that he's worried about his ships - his merchandise. But Antonio responds

My ventures are not in one bottom trusted,
Nor to one place; nor is my whole estate
Upon the fortune of this present year
Therefore my merchandise makes me not sad.

So it's not to do with business. Salanio has another idea:

Why, then you are in love.

ANTONIO
Fie, fie!

How do you paraphrase "Fie, fie!"? Our paraphrase here has "nonsense, nonsense". "Yeah, yeah" might be a better option. It implies a negative response without actually stating one.

Then Bassanio enters and everyone exits, leaving him with "better company". And Shakespeare is keen to tell us that Antonio already knows what Bassanio is coming to talk about:

Well; tell me now, what lady is the same
To whom you swore a secret pilgrimage
That you today promis'd to tell me of?

Might Antonio be said because Bassanio is thinking of marrying? Let me state again, it's not absolutely in the text, but I think it's implied. And look what Antonio says to Bassanio in the trial:

Commend me to your honourable wife...
Say, how I lov'd you, speak me fair in death;
And, when the tale is told, bid her be judge
Whether Bassanio had not once a love.

Perhaps it is love after all.

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In The Merchant of Venice, what reasons do Salanio and Salarino give for Antonio's sadness?

In the opening scene of The Merchant of Venice Antonio is being coaxed to explain his sadness to Salanio and Salerio.  Antonio says that he "knows not why [he is] so sad," yet these two are convinced there is a reason.

Salerio suggests that Antonio's "mind is tossing on the ocean" along with his very richly laden ships.  Supported by Salanio who says

And every object that might make me fear

Misfortune to my ventures, out of doubt

Would make me sad.

And Salerio adds:

But tell not me:  I know, Antonio

Is sad to think upon his merchandise.

Antonio swears that his ventures are safe since they aren't placed solely in the ships at harbor.    And then Salerio guesses that it must be love that has Antonio sad.  To this, Antonio says, "Fie, fie."  And finally Salerio concludes:

Then let us say you are sad

Because you are not merry.

The characters Salanio and Salerio do the majority of the talking in this opening scene, and so what is really troubling Antonio remains a mystery in their conversation.

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Explain how and why Antonio is a melancholy character in The Merchant of Venice.

In The Merchant of Venice, Antonio begins the play with the line “In sooth, I know not why I am so sad.” His inexplicable melancholy baffles and wearies him. His friends Salarino and Salanio come up with suggestions, saying that he is nervous about losing his merchandise at sea. Antonio denies this and asserts that his wealth does not depend on “the fortune of this present year” nor are his assets all in one place.

Salarino concludes that Antonio is in love, which he dismisses with, “Fie, fie!” Antonio concludes that he simply has a depressive disposition: the world is “A stage where every man must play a part, / And mine a sad one.” He cries to say goodbye to his friend Bassanio, and he seems more resigned than despondent when faced with imminent death.

Bassanio may be the key. Antonio, as far as we know, is an unmarried but generous man with no family to speak of. He bestows much of his affection and money on Bassanio, even risking his life to borrow money to help the young man woo the wealthy Portia. Salarino and Salanio describe Antonio and Bassanio’s tearful parting and observe, “I think he only loves the world for him.”

When Shylock threatens to take a pound of flesh from Antonio, the merchant finds it pointless to reason with the man, declaring, “Pray God, Bassanio come / To see me pay his debt, and then I care not!” All he wants is to say goodbye to Bassanio and for him to know how much he loves him. Perhaps the source of Antonio’s sadness is love after all.

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In The Merchant of Venice, why, according to Solanio and Salerio, is Antonio sad?

The Merchant of Venice begins with the woeful Antonio who questions himself as to what could have made him feel so melancholy. He says that he has "much ado to know myself," (I.i.vii) and cannot understand his own sadness. Salerio, a merchant like Antonio, who is friends with Antonio and also Bassanio, for whom Antonio will ultimately offer a "pound of flesh," to Shylock, suggests that Antonio is preoccupied by thoughts of his fleet of ships which has not yet reached port. Antonio dismisses the idea as he stresses to his merchant friends that his "ventures are not in one bottom trusted," and so, even if there was a disaster, he would presumably be safe. This, in fact, foreshadows what will follow as Antonio's shipments do indeed fail to deliver and Antonio will be expected to provide Shylock with his "bond."   

Solanio then, if Antonio has no concerns over his shipments has a different opinion of the cause of Antonio's distress. "Why then you are in love,"( I.i.46) he ponders. Antonio also rejects this idea. There can be no explanation then, except to say that Antonio is "sad because you are not merry." (I.i.48-49)

Salerio and Solanio take their leave of Antonio when his very dear friend Bassanio arrives. 

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What reason does Salarino give as the probable cause of Antonio's melancholy in The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare?

Salarino and Antonio have a conversation in the opening scene of the play, Act I scene i of The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare. Antonio says he is feeling sad but does not know the cause. Salarino can see that Antonio is despondent and proceeds to give three separate speeches, uninterrupted by any response from Antonio, about what he is sure is the cause of Antonio's malaise.

Salarino says he is certain the cause of Antonio's bad feeling is that he is thinking about all his ships being tossed about on the ocean, ships full of cargo that will make him rich or make him poor if they are lost. Salarino tries to reassure Antonio that his ships are perfectly safe but then says that, if it were his ships at risk, he would be doing exactly the same thing--worrying. 

...I should be still
Plucking the grass, to know where sits the wind,
Peering in maps for ports and piers and roads;
And every object that might make me fear
Misfortune to my ventures, out of doubt
Would make me sad.

As if that were not enough, Salarino makes a third speech, detailing all the ways in which he would be worrying about his ships and their cargo if he were Antonio, finishing with these simple lines:

I know, Antonio
Is sad to think upon his merchandise.

After all that, after thirty-four uninterrupted lines of descriptive reasons why Antonio is worried about his ships, Antonio briefly answers that losing his ships does not bother him at all. Salarino moves blithely on to his next guess: love.

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What reason does Salarino give as the probable cause of Antonio's melancholy in The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare?

In the opening scene of the play, Antonio laments about his melancholy attitude and wonders why he has become so depressed lately. Salarino suggests that Antonio is worried about his merchant ships that are out to sea. Solanio joins in the conversation and comments to Antonio that he would also be depressed at the thought of his precious ships being tossed by the treacherous sea. Salarino goes on to mention that if he were in Antonio's situation, every little thing he did during the day would remind him of the possibility of losing his ships. Salarino says that blowing on his soup would remind him of the stormy winds, and that he would ponder whether or not his ship ran aground by simply looking at the sand in a hourglass. Salarino clearly believes that Antonio is in a melancholy mood because Antonio fears losing his merchant ships which are out on a treacherous sea.

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What are the suggestions given by Antonio's friends about his sadness in The Merchant of Venice?

As the play opens, Antonio tells his friends he doesn't understand why he feels so sad. Antonio's friends Salarino and Solanio suggest that his sadness might be caused by worries about having three large merchant ships out on dangerous seas. Solanio says that if it were him, he would be worried about the weather all the time with so much cargo out at sea.

Antonio assures his friends that his sadness is not due to concern about his ships. He explains that he is diversified—his fortunes don't rest on one ship—so if he loses one, he doesn't have to worry.

Salarino and Solanio then conclude that his sadness must be due to love, which Antonio also denies. However, it seems they are not far off with this guess: when Antonio speaks with the younger Bassanio, he seems concerned that his friend has confided being in love with a woman. Antonio acts toward Bassanio, at the least, as very close friend and perhaps has warmer feelings for him.

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In The Merchant of Venice, what does Antonio's friend say about the possible reason for his sadness?

In Act 1, Scene 1, Antonio confesses his sadness to two of his friends, Salerio and Solanio. He adds that he has no idea "how I caught it, found it, or came by it,/What stuff 'tis made of, [or] whereof it is born."

Salerio and Solanio advance three guesses about the cause of Antonio's sadness.  None of their guesses rings quite true.

Their first guess is that Antonio is worried about the fate of his ships, into which he has sunk a lot of money, and which are all out on trade missions to various parts of the world.  Salerio goes into some detail about how, if he were in Antonio's position, every little thing would remind him of his ships.  He adds a vivid word picture of "dangerous rocks,/Which touching but my gentle vessel's side/Would scatter all her spices on the stream." 

Antonio denies that he is worried about his ships.  Not all his wealth is sunk into one fleet, he says, nor is his whole "estate" depending on the outcome of this year's venture.

Solanio then guesses that Antonio is in love.  Antonio dismisses this idea with a "Fie, fie!"

Solanio then advances the third guess, which is that

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.

In other words, Solanio describes a creeping malaise or boredom that is not exactly sadness, just a lack of zest or enjoyment in life (very similar to some manifestations of depression).  Antonio does not get a chance to confirm or deny this, because some other characters enter at this point.

Though none of the three explanations seem to fit perfectly, the one about the ships does several things.  It gives us critical background information about Antonio's ships.  It shows us Antonio's overconfident attitude about his money, which will get him into trouble later.  And it suggests a possible fourth explanation for Antonio's sadness: Though he is not consciously worried about the ships, perhaps the fact that they will all sink later, is causing him some foreboding now.  This would then be a case of "future events cast backward shadows." 

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Explain Antonio's melancholy in The Merchant of Venice.

As the play begins, poor old Antonio laments over his sadness. The worst of it is that he doesn't know why he's feeling like this. He concludes, not unreasonably, that if he doesn't know what's eating him, then he mustn't know himself all that well.

Antonio's friends Salarino and Solario appear, and provide their own explanations as to what's wrong with him. Salarino suggests it's because Antonio is worried about the potential loss of his merchant ships, a common occurrence for merchants in those days. But Antonio assures Salarino that this can't be the reason; his financial situation is healthy because he's been sensible enough not to invest all his money in one ship or one part of the world.

Solario then suggests that perhaps Antonio is in love. But Antonio immediately responds by saying "Fie, fie!" which is an old-fashioned way of expressing disgust. Not only is Antonio not in love, but he is positively disgusted that Solario should think otherwise.

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In The Merchant of Venice, what reasons does Antonio give for his being melancholy?

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.

These are the first lines of the play - and the answer to your question. Antonio actually doesn't give any reasons for why he feels sad: in fact, the whole of the first part of this first scene is given over to discussing it. His friends inititally suggest that he is worried about the merchant ships he has on the ocean:

Your mind is tossing on the ocean;
There, where your argosies, with portly sail,—
Like signiors and rich burghers on the flood,
Or, as it were, the pageants of the sea,—
Do overpeer the petty traffickers,
That curt'sy to them, do them reverence,
As they fly by them with their woven wings.

When Antonio rejects this explanation, Salanio has another one standing by:

Why, then you are in love.

And Antonio's response?

Fie, fie!

And that's all that's said. What does "fie, fie" mean? I suppose it's quite like "shut up!" or "stop it, stop it" - it's not quite a "no", but it's certainly not a "yes". Many critics - and if you carry on reading Act 1, Scene 1 you'll see why - have argued that Antonio's sadness is because he is in love with Bassanio. But does Antonio ever connect the two things? Nope.

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In Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, what is the reason for Antonio's sadness?

The play opens with Antonio speaking of his sadness, and claiming he doesn't know why he feels this way. He is with two friends, and when three other friends come along (Lorenzo, Gratiano, and Bassanio, who is Antonio's dear friend), the first two friends depart, making comments that suggest they think they are somehow less worthy of Antonio's company than the friends who have just arrived. All of the men present joke about trying to make Antonio happy but not being able.

Some productions of the play have explored the theme of homosexual love that may explain Antonio's sadness; he has an unrequited love for Bassanio, and Bassanio is in love with Portia, who he wins by taking part in a mysterious contest for her affections. Antonio understands he cannot have more than a friendship with Bassanio, but when he believes he may die at Shylock's hand, he tells Bassanio:

Commend me to your honorable wife:
Tell her the process of Antonio's end;
Say how I lov'd you, speak me fair in death;
And when the tale is told, bid her be judge
Whether Bassanio had not once a love.

The suggestion here is that the love between the two men is deep and abiding, the source of their strong friendship, but Antonio suggests there is romantic love as well, by using the term "a love" to refer to himself, as opposed to a friend. 

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