A Dose of Drama




A Dose of Drama:
How Much Humor Can You Take?


Antonio is the namesake of Shakespeare\'s The Merchant of Venice, but in addition to contributing to the title, his constant search for emotional martyrdom adds an air of depth and drama to an otherwise lighthearted and laughable play. Like many of Shakespeare\'s best characters, Antonio could easily be overlooked as a mere plot-device. However, upon further inspection, he\'s more than just two-dimensional; he has a history, a personality, and a raison d\'être.
Entering with complaints of phantom depressions, Antonio explains his woes to two of his friends, Salerio and Solanio.
ANTONIO:
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 \'tis born
I am to learn.
And such a want-wit sadness makes of me
That I have much ado to know myself (I.i.1-7).
The audience never does learn the cause of this depression. Nor, it seems, does Antonio. Many speculate it is foreshadowing of his melancholy to come, while others say it is just a display of Antonio\'s default attitude: romantic sadness. His emotions are not those of a cell-bound manic-depressive, but rather those of a large hearted person doting ceaselessly for the unattainable. Why does this open the play? Shakespeare often cleverly manipulated his characters\' actions for the sake of plot revelations. For instance, Shakespeare uses his depression to let Salerio and Solanio question him about his affairs, thus introducing him to the audience. Throughout the play, the repercussions of many adventures fall upon Antonio; his 3,000-ducat debt, and Shylock\'s subsequent rancor, as well as the destruction of his ships all must be placed on his shoulders. However, in the end, while everyone else finds love, he is alone. It almost seems that Antonio welcomes these negative events, as they fuel his tears and moans. This is not to say that he is a crybaby, but rather that he does what he can to remain romantically sad.
ANTONIO:
I hold this world but as the world, Gratiano,
A stage where every man must play a part,
And mine a sad one (I.i.81-83).
This quote quite bluntly states how Antonio feels it is his destiny, his dharma, to be depressed.
So, if he is not a plot device with legs, what is Antonio?
Although his love interests seem non-existent, Antonio seems to be the lover of the story; he is sensitive, doting, and generous (as well as single!) - all common characteristics of Shakespearean romantics. However, Bassanio, a worthier suitor (he seems to have a more positive look-out on life) takes this role. Antonio is not comic relief, since the Gobbos fill that. Any hatred the audience might feel is directed at Shylock, so the only thing Antonio can pull from the viewers is sympathy. It seems Antonio is there to supply the "dramatic relief." One can only take so much levity before it becomes nauseating! The Merchant of Venice is categorized as a comedy…perhaps Shakespeare felt he needed to mix up the emotions. And this is true…Antonio\'s emotions, if examined, seem to be some of the truest of the play, although few investigate the subtext.
His amity with Bassanio is a close one, worthy of words like \'love\': "BASSANIO: To you, Antonio / I owe the most in money, and in love (I.i.137-138)." This shows fairly obviously how Bassanio is indebted to Antonio not only in borrowed money, but also in love. Antonio concurs with this a few lines later, saying "My purse, my person, my extremest means / Lie all unlocked to your occasions [needs] (I.i.145-146)," reminding his friend that his money, help, love and help are available to him. The phrasing is interesting though. Saying that his offerings are "unlocked" to him implies that to everyone else, they are locked. Perhaps Bassanio alone can pierce through Antonio\'s fog of heavyheartedness. Most male friends, even those in Shakespeare, don\'t toss "love" around lightly. While some dismiss it as nothing but word choice, others dig deeper. Homoerotic underplays are cited numerous times throughout the play, and these are worth investigating. First off, the fact that, even with such obvious characterization as "the lover", Antonio fails in filling that duty could be symbolic of his homosexuality. The