Character Sketch of Bassanio in Merchant of Venice – ICSE Class 10, 9 English
The Hero of the Caskets Story
If Antonio is the hero of the Bond story, Bassanio is the hero of the Caskets story. Of course, he is not a hero in the absolute sense of the word. But he is certainly a romantic hero who is able to win the heroine Portia as his wife.
A Young Prodigal Often in Need of Money
When we meet Bassanio first, we find him in need of money.’ He already owes some money to his friend Antonio; and now he approaches that friend of his with a request for another loan. He admits that he has always been spending more money than he could afford. He also acknowledges the fact that he is already under a debt to Antonio. But he also expresses his sincere desire to repay the first loan while asking for a second. And then, to prove his point he argues that, if Antonio gives him a second loan, he (Antonio) would stand a much greater chance of getting back the amount of the first loan in addition to getting back the amount of this second loan. And he supports this argument by citing his own experience as a schoolboy when, by shooting as arrow in the same directiofi in which he had shot the first arrow and lost it, he used to recover both the arrows. This is a very plausible way of arguing a case; and we must give due credit to him in this context. Of course, we can also here interpret his argument differently and say that he is using only, a trick to be able to extract a second loan from a gullible man. But Antonio’s deep love for him is a proof of the fact that Bassanio was not a trickster.
An Ardent and Romantic Lover with a Poetical Nature
Bassanio is certainly a romantic lover, having something of the poet in him. In describing Portia to Antonio, he says that she is fair and fairer than that word. He compares her to Cato’s daughter, Brutus’s Portia. Then he suitors to the many Jasons who went to Colchos to win the golden fleece. Later, he speaks in a poetic manner about the beauty of Portia’s picture. Thus we can have no doubt at all about his imaginative, romantic, and poetical qualities.
His Love of Gaiety
Bassanio has a dual nature. On one hand he is devoted to Antonio who is a reserved and melancholy kind of man, the silent type speaking very little. On the other hand, he is fond of the company of men like Gratiano, Salerio, and Solanio, all of whom are jovial, talkative, and boisterous fellows. On the whole, he may be regarded as a man with a healthy and optimistic outlook upon life. It is because of his handsome appearance and excellent manners, combined with his sense of humour and witty manner of speaking that Portia falls in love with him even before he makes his choice of a casket. Even Nerissa is greatly impressed by his personality and his behaviour, and she sincerely and ardently desires his success in his choice of a casket. His prodigality is a small fault which by no means disqualifies him as a suitor whose success in the test of the caskets is desired by all those who are interested in Portia’s welfare and by us as well. He actually comes out of the test with flying colours; and his success is, of course, the result of his understanding of this world and his knowledge of human nature.
Not at all a Shallow Man
He is not a shallow kind of man. The speeches which he makes before choosing a casket show his essential wisdom. When he comes to Belmont, his chief motive in trying to win Portia is to marry an heiress who owns a vast estate and is also exceptionally beautiful, However, the comments which he makes on the various caskets show that he is not at all a greedy man. He knows that appearances are deceptive and that the world is always deceived with ornament. He then gives several examples from the spheres of law and religion to prove that every vice in this world puts on an outward appearance of virtue. He speaks of cowards who wear the beards of Hercules and the frowns of Mars; and he speaks of women using paint, powder, and false hair to look beautiful and alluring.
His Sincerity in Friendship
Nor can we doubt his sincerity in friendship. He has a deep and genuine affection for Antonio; and his anxiety about Antonio’s safety clearly shows that. On learning that Antonio has fallen into the clutches of the Jew, he feels extremely dejected, and then tries desperately to save his friend’s life. Having plenty of money with him after his marriage with Portia, he is willing to offer any amount of it to Shylock to induce him to give up his demand for a pound of flesh from Antonio’s body. When the judgment in favour of Antonio and against the Jew has been delivered, he voluntarily offers three thousand ducats to the judge as a gift. And then, at Antonio’s request, he parts with Portia’s ring to gratify the judge’s desire even though he knows that his giving away the ring would mean some trouble with Portia when he returns home. In short, his true love for Portia, his true friendship for Antonio, and his generous nature make him a lovable man.
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