Shakespeare first introduces Antonio with the line “In sooth I know not why I am so sad.” (Act 1, Scene 1). Antonio’s melancholy is profound as his most beloved friend, a younger man named Bassanio, is preparing to leave him. The love Antonio holds for Bassanio is so deep such that he provides Bassanio, then in debt and in need of three thousand ducats, with all the credit he can offer to set him on his way without any hesitation. He goes so far to even sign a contract that could lead to the potential loss of his flesh order to help his friend. The love Antonio felt for Bassanio was so intense that not even the possibility of mutilation and death could stop him. As a result of such a generous and selfless nature, Antonio is well respected in the community at the time and loved by all his friends. But his life is far from perfect. His first line which begins the play is a line that evidently reveals the pain he suffers in his loneliness.
Antonio’s generous and selfless nature is a sharp contrast to the vindictive and greedy mindset of the play’s antagonist, Shylock. His attitude towards people is so detestable that even his own daughter eventually leaves him. Whether Shylock is the villain or victim can be shown in both ways; the humiliation he suffers at the hands of Christians who mock his Jewish ancestry makes him the victim of the Christians’ ridicules. Shylock suffers the brute of this abuse through Antonio, who, despite his generosity and selflessness is capable of racist cruelty. Shylock thus develops a profound hatred towards Christians that intensifies when his only child steals from him to elope with a Christian man. The play also shows the uncertainty that Shylock had regarding whether he was more pained at the loss of his daughter, or the money she stole from him. His delirious ramblings of “My daughter…my ducats,” (Act 2, Scene 8) seem to place the two at an equal footing—although that is not surprising. If there is one love Shylock processes, it is his obsession with money. This fills every missing piece in his heart as he works for money and lives for money. Yet even money cannot fill the loneliness caused by a missing daughter.
Although Antonio and Shylock are born enemies and develop an extreme hatred to each other during the play, there are underlying similarities between the two. Their resemblance can be observed in their positions in life where one is a successful merchant while the other, a wealthy Jewish moneylender. Their likeness is further amplified by the intensity in which they love: Antonio with his devotion to Bassanio and Shylock with his obsessive love of money. Yet even as they are similar in love they are similar in hate; Antonio has shown in his dealing with Shylock that he is capable of cruelty and Shylock in turn, is only too eager to reciprocate this hatred. What is perhaps the most striking similarity between the two is their loneliness. Both Antonio and Shylock lose the closest person in their lives but even before their loss there was something incomplete and missing from their lives. Antonio’s weariness of the world and Shylock’s detest for it isolates both these characters from the Venetian society. Their detest of each other is evident on the surface but beneath the hate lies a striking parallel in wealth, love, hate and loneliness.
If one can be convinced of the similarities between Antonio and Shylock, one can most definitely be convinced of their differences. Although both these men are plenty in wealth, one spends his fortune freely, while the other takes meticulous care to maintain it. Antonio is well loved for how generous he is to his friends, especially how liberally he lends them money. Shylock on the other hand makes a living out of providing loans for profit. Their different outlooks on money leaves one loved and respected while the other is hated and humiliated. Due to the different perceptions the Venetian society has on both these men, Antonio develops his sociality while Shylock remains taciturn.
Although Christians and Jews have not had a peaceful coexistence in recorded history due to their apparent differences in religious practices, they share many similarities as all humans do. Such a concept, not openly expressed in the seventeenth century is a surprisingly prominent theme within Shakespeare’s 1605 play “The Merchant of Venice.” The play’s archenemies, Antonio, a Christian and Shylock, a Jew share many differences in how they are perceived by society. Nevertheless, as humans we are all equal in what we are capable of doing. Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” passes on to the audience the message that by disregarding the differences between people, one can see the true equity in human beings. As centuries and eras pass by, one reads “The Merchant of Venice” with hope that some day such a conflict between religions would only be existent in past history and that equity will prevail among all of humankind.