Merchant of Venice Characters guide studies each
character's role and motivation in this play.
Antonio: A Venetian merchant of considerable
wealth, he makes his money from "ventures", or mercantile
enterprises using his fleet of ships. Much liked by
his friends, Salanio, Gratiano and Salarino, Antonio
is owed money by his friend Bassanio. The title of this
play is considered to be derived from this character
as well as the character of Shylock.
Bassanio: The romantic lead of this play. He
aims to successfully court the fair Portia. Her marriage
will give him the money he needs to pay off his large
debts to friend Antonio and so his courtship of Portia
is also an attempt to pay off his debts.
Shylock: A successful Jewish moneylender who
is much maligned over his religion and the practice
of moneylenders such as himself of charging interest.
He lends the 3000 ducats Bassanio needs to court Portia
and hopefully, pay off his debts to Antonio. There is
however a catch; if the debt is not repaid, Antonio
as security will forfeit one pound of his flesh. It
is Shylock who is responsible for the immortal lines,
"If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us,
do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and
if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?" (Act III, Scene
I, Lines 63-72).
Tubul: Friend of Shylock. Dispatched by Shylock
to find his daughter, he tells Shylock of the loss of
Antonio's ships. This lets Shylock realize that Antonio
has now forfeited his debt.
Portia: The heroine of this play, Portia is
a wealthy and beautiful women who is desired by many,
so much so that her father has devised an ingenious
test all suitors must perform to win her hand in marriage.
This consists of a suitor choosing one of three chests
in which her portrait lies. Far from being merely beautiful,
Portia also possesses a sharp mind, one, which saves
Antonio from doom at the hands of Shylock.
Nerissa: As Portia's waiting-maid, she tends
to Portia and also helps Portia save Antonio's life.
She later marries Bassanio's friend Gratiano.
Gratiano: A good friend of Bassanio, he marries
Nerissa after falling in love with her at Portia's palace.
Bassanio describes him as talkative, saying; "Gratiano
speaks an infinite deal of nothing, more than any man
in all Venice" (Act I, Scene I, Lines 114).
The Prince of Morocco: This suitor is responsible
for the expression "All that glitters is not
gold; / Often have you heard that told:" (Act II, Scene
VII, Lines 65-73). As one of Portia's suitors, he reads
this upon choosing the gold casket, which is the wrong
one and loses the right to marry Portia.
The Prince of Arragon: This suitor also fails
to win the fair Portia's hand in marriage when he incorrectly
chooses the silver casket.
Lorenzo: A close friend of both Bassanio and
Antonio, his eloping with Shylock's daughter Jessica,
results in part on Shylock's merciless insistence on
his pound of flesh when Antonio forfeits Bassanio's
Jessica: The daughter of Shylock, her eloping
with the "Christian" Lorenzo and her stealing of his
property, angers Shylock greatly.
Salarino and Salanio: Friends of Antonio who
attempt to cheer him up in Act I, Scene I.
The Duke of Venice: As judge over the court
case between Shylock and Antonio, he has the power to
pardon a death sentence. In the play, he is put in a
difficult position by Shylock; he doesn't want Antonio
to die, but to ignore Shylock's legal rights would be
to place all of Venice in disrepute as a place to conduct
Launcelot Gobbo: A clown and servant to Shylock,
he later aids in the escape of Jessica from Shylock
and works for Bassanio.
Old Gobbo: Launcelot's father, who is blind.
Balthazar and Stephano: Servants of Portia.
Leonardo: Servant of Bassanio.