Reminiscent of the philosopher Jaque's speech in As You Like It, "All the world's a stage,/And all the men and women merely players," this line is spoken by Antonio in an attempt to explain his recent melancholy to his friends. Gratiano has just opined that this sadness is linked to his worries about worldly possessions, a charge which Antonio (the Merchant in this play) vehemently denies. For his part, Gratiano states that his own role on the stage of life is as a fool, always laughing and chattering away. He goes on to criticize the people who are silent and wistful, stating that they act thus in order to give the impression that they are profound thinkers. He insinuates that Antonio is only pretending to be depressed.
Bassanio's character is more fully drawn than Antonio's, but it does not possess the powerful individuality that Shakespeare gives to his portraits of Portia and Shylock. First off, when one begins considering Bassanio, one should dismiss all the critics who condemn him for his financial habits. Bassanio's request to Antonio for more money is perfectly natural for him. He is young; he is in love; and he is, by nature, impulsive and romantic. Young men in love have often gone into debt; thus Bassanio has always borrowed money and, furthermore, no moral stigma should be involved. Shakespeare needs just such a character in this play for his plot.
If Bassanio is not a powerful hero, he is certainly a sympathetic one. First, he has some of the most memorable verse in the play — language which has music, richness, and dignity. Second, he shows us his immediate, uncalculated generosity and love;
Bassanio is a young man who has just left behind the carefree days of his youth with a resolve to enter into the respectable life of being a good husband. In the past, he has squandered his wealth on pleasures of good living and extravagant expenditures. His lack of funds, however, does not stop him from generosity nor does it...