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.