Discuss the importance and role of Bassanio’s character in Shakespeare’s play Merchant of Venice. Also give a character sketch of Bassanio.
The character of Bassanio in William Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice is an important one. In fact, he is the instigator of the two main story-lines — the casket story and the bond story. Bassanio somehow hears about the heiress Portia and her wealth and decides to try his luck in winning Portia’s hand. That is why he needed the money to go to Belmont. But he had already spend up all his finances and went to his merchant friend Antonio who helped him borrow the money from Shylock. Antonio was unable to pay back Shylock in time, as he lost his ships and his wealth in the sea. That is how the trial scene originates.
So, without Bassanio going to Belmont to choose a casket, the casket story and the presentation of characters like Prince of Morocco and Prince of Arragon would have been irrelevant. Again, the Bond story between Shylock and Antonio could not exist at all if Bassanio did not need the money. Or even if it happened so by Antonio himself needing the money, the theme of friendship that Shakespeare presents would have been missed altogether. This only makes Bassanio an essential figure in the play. This is again justifiable by the fact that he is considered as the typical hero of the play while Portia is the heroine and the play ends with their marriage.
Now, to concentrate on the character sketch of Bassanio, he is presented as an enthusiastic young man with some good qualities and a crucial flaw of character. This man had already wasted all his wealth before the play opens and now wants to win Portia’s hand as a gamble to get all the wealth fair Portia has inherited from her late father. He is clearly seen as an extravagant man with a lack of material wisdom. He lives in a dream-like idealistic world far from reality. That is why he did not bother to take a loan with his friend Antonio as a guarantor and pretend to be a wealthy man to impress Portia. He seemed carefree of the potential danger of such loan where Antonio himself was in a tight spot with his finances. It was reckless from him.
But the good side of Bassanio’s character is depicted in his loyalty to his friendship and love. He wanted to offer his own life while Antonio was in trouble in the trial scene. Again, when Portia, in disguise as Balthazar, wanted his ring as a fee to test his devotion towards her, he qualified that test as well. Though finally he parted with that ring, it was due to his sense of gratitude towards the lawyer who helped his friend Antonio save his life. And Bassanio’s wisdom is proved in the fact that he was successful in choosing the right casket to win his love.
While his fault has been his extravagance and frivolity, many readers and critics overlook it as natural trait of youth. Then his good qualities stand out and make the man lovable.
Bassanio, the romantic hero of the play, is someone who cannot handle his finances. Bassanio is a very lavish and extravagant character in the play who doesn’t think about the future and only thinks about the present. He enjoys life to the fullest and doesn’t hesitate in spending money. His character is not justifiable according to today’s means but it’s justifiable according to the Elizabethan era.
The Elizabethan era is the golden era which was very prosperous to all, hence Bassanio was not the only Venetian spending big ducats and not understanding the value of money. There was a time when Bassanio was left with no money for him to even go and meet Portia and be one of the people to hold rival positions to win her. Bassanio immediately turned towards Antonio’s help. This shows the reason for Bassanio’s carefree spending; he was confident enough that his wealthy friend would be there to help him.
Although Bassanio went to Antonio for money, in troubles he never thought of Antonio as the friend he uses and throws and this can be seen when Bassanio warns Antonio not to accept the bond of shylock and it can also be seen when he goes to free Antonio from the bond to the court. His loyalty and love towards Antonio are so much that he parts with his ring which he swore to never part with since Portia gave it. Bassanio gives away the ring without hesitation to the lawyer who saved Antonio’s life when Antonio says to do so.
Although his love and loyalty towards Antonio is much more than that towards Portia, Bassanio is actually someone who deserves her. Bassanio’s love for the rich heiress Portia, though appears to be mercenary at the beginning, develops into true love later in the play. His nobility and character is evident in the correct choice of casket. Bassanio choosing the lead casket proves us he does not like Portia for her looks or for her money and riches he likes her for herself.
Without Bassanio, Morocco and Arragon would not be significant; they indicate the two types of people who come to win a hand of a fair lady — one who does for her looks and the other who does for her money.
Bassanio’s happy-go-lucky nature is a sharp contrast to that of Antonio’s melancholic one. At the beginning of the play, Bassanio seems to be a spendthrift adventurer, a fortune hunter and a frivolous youth, but later on he proves to be a profound lover and a loyal friend.