What are the similarities and differences between Antonio’s melancholy and that of Portia in Shakespeare’s play ‘The Merchant of Venice’?
In Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice Antonio and Portia both are sad for their own reasons. We come to know of Antonio’s melancholy at the very beginning of the play. But Portia’s despair is made clear when the play progresses.
There are certain similarities in their melancholy.
- Portia and Antonio both share their sadness with those close to them. While Antonio talks with Solanio and Salarino, Portia finds support in Nerrisa.
- Both the characters are good in terms of virtue or morality and they themselves are not responsible for their melancholy. While for Portia it is her father who had made her bound by the terms of his will, it is the natural forces or some unknown reason that brings about Antonio’s sadness.
- Both are disturbed by their melancholy and wish to come out of this.
Now there are differences too.
- Portia knows the reason of her sadness, but Antonio does not know why he is sad, as he expresses it in the Act I, Sc 1 of the play.
This is how Antonio puts it before Salarino and Solanio.
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.
But, here’s what portia says to Nerrisa:
O me, the word ‘choose!’ I may
neither choose whom I would nor refuse whom I
dislike; so is the will of a living daughter curbed
by the will of a dead father…
- As Portia does know the reason behind her sadness, she also has a possible solution, or at least a hope, in her mind. But Antonio is in deep trouble as he has no clue about where his sadness comes from. That’s why he says:
I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano;
A stage where every man must play a part,
And mine a sad one.
- Antonio’s condition indeed worsens due to the following events (news of the shipwrecks) in the play, but Portia’s melancholy goes away as Bassanio chooses the right casket to win her hand.