The Homosexual Relationship Between Antonio and Bassanio in William Shakespeare’s the Merchant of Venice

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The Homosexual Relationship Between Antonio and Bassanio in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice

Tsun-Hsien Tsai
Sophomore Student, Department of English
National Changhua University of Education

There are many pairs of male adults with honorable masculine friendships appearing in William Shakespeare’s popular plays, such as Antonio and Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice, Antonio and Sebastian in Twelfth Night, the two kings Leonates and Polixenes in The Winter’s Tale, and so on. No matter what social status and age they are, it is natural for men to develop friendship. However, among them, the same-sex friendship between Antonio and Bassanio in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice is most controversial. Reading from the beginning, Antonio’s seemingly-infinitive financial support to Bassanio, to the end of the play, Antonio’s life sacrifice, I cannot help wondering that whether their relationship is more than friendship. Therefore, I am going to discuss the homosexual relationship between Antonio and Bassanio in terms of their extremely close finance implications.

The Merchant of Venice indeed accumulates an amount of homoerotic feeling, and has dealt with Antonio’s extreme love for Bassanio. As Sinfiled claims, whether or not Antonio’s love is what we call sexual is a question hard to work out; nonetheless, it is certain that his feelings for Bassanio are intense (“How to read The Merchant of Venice”124). It is worthwhile to think about what Antonio, in the beginning of the play, says he does not know: why he is sad. Antonio expresses:

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…. (1.1.1-5)
Salerio points out two explanations for the causes of Antonio’s sadness. One is that Antonio is worried about his ships sunk in a variety of ways, and the other is that Antonio is in love. It is frequently accepted that they are right on both accounts because this comedy is filled with both erotic and financial implications at the same time.

In fact, it is not difficult to observe that this play is filled with financial implications under their homosexual relationship. In the opening of play, Bassanio begins with willingness to tale about his plight to Antonio:

Tis not unknown to you Antonio
How much I have disabled mine state,
By something showing a more swelling port
Than my faint means would grand continuance:
Nor do I now make moan to be abride’d
From such a noble rate, but my chief care
Is to come fairly off from the great debts
Wherein my time (something too prodigal)
Hath left my gag’ d…. (1.1122-30)
In the scene, it mentions that Bassanio especially is in debt to Antonio, and he is being portrayed as a tyro with monetary problems. Bassanio is unable to manage his financial affairs efficiently, and his financial plight is associated with the close monetary relationship between Antonio. The financial unbalance results in the intensive and unbroken economic bong between the two men. This situation shows that Antonio has generally supported Bassanio in the financial for a long time, so Antonio’s wealth seems to become a necessary substance to strengthen the two men’s homosexual relationship. Here Bassanio says:

To you, Antonio,
I owe the most in money and in love,
And from your love I have a warranty
To unburthen all my plots and purposes
How to get clear of all the debts I owe. (1.1.130-34)
In spite of understanding that Bassanio feels so sorry about borrowing money from him, Antonio urges Bassanio to make use of his money without hesitation:
You know me well, and herein spend but time
To wind about my love with circumstance,
And out of doubt you do me now more wrong
In making question of my uttermost
Than if you had made waste of all I have:
Then do but say to me what I should do
That in...
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