The Merchant of Venice

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Bassanio Character Analysis

A nobleman from Venice, who is a kinsman, close friend, and longtime debtor of the merchant, Antonio. Because he wants to woo the noble Portia, but cannot himself afford to do so, Bassanio borrows 3000 ducats from Shylock, with Antonio as his guarantor. His status as Portia's suitor and, later, her husband, makes Bassanio the romantic hero of the play. However, his character is deeply flawed. At best clueless, and at worst consciously selfish and manipulative, he always manages to avoid earning his own way: first, he exploits the generosity of his friend Antonio, and then he freely passes on the money and gifts that Portia gives him.

Bassanio Quotes in The Merchant of Venice

The The Merchant of Venice quotes below are all either spoken by Bassanio or refer to Bassanio. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of The Merchant of Venice published in 2009.
Act 1, scene 1 Quotes
In my school-days, when I had lost one shaft,
I shot his fellow of the selfsame flight
The selfsame way, with more advised watch,
To find the other forth; and by adventuring both,
I oft found both.
Related Characters: Bassanio (speaker)
Page Number: 1.1.140-144
Explanation and Analysis:

Before Bassanio explains his desire to pursue Portia as a suitor, he discusses his pre-existing debts to his friend Antonio. Bassanio already owes Antonio (and others) a fair sum of money and gratitude, but he is about to ask for additional monetary assistance. Although Antonio will not withhold his money, and will be quite generous because of his friendship, Bassanio still provides an analogy that might convince Antonio to lend him money. Bassanio references how, once he lost an arrow, he would often shoot another arrow and more carefully watch the second arrow's flight, in order to find both arrows at once. Bassanio suggests that he will do the same with money; by paying more attention to the way he spends new loans, he will be able to repay his old and new debts to Antonio.

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Act 1, scene 2 Quotes
I dote on his very absence.
Related Characters: Portia (speaker), Bassanio
Page Number: 1.2.300
Explanation and Analysis:

After detailing her many suitors, and revealing her dislike of their behaviors and appearances, Portia declares to Nerissa that she will remain chaste as the goddess Diana, unless one of her suitors manages to win her in the way her father ordered before his death. Portia claims "I dote on his very absence," in reference to all of her potential suitors. 

Yet, after Portia makes this extravagant claim, Nerissa reminds her of Bassanio; surely Bassanio was deserving, according to Nerissa. Portia does indeed remember Bassanio, and agrees that he was the suitor she preferred most. We thus begin to see a possible relief from the play's current aura of banality and absence.

Act 1, scene 3 Quotes
I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following; but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you.
Related Characters: Shylock (speaker), Bassanio
Page Number: 1.3.35-38
Explanation and Analysis:
Shylock utters these words during his first interaction with Antonio and Bassanio in the play, an interaction which reveals how complicated a figure Shylock will become in The Merchant of Venice. He will have more pitiful moments like this, despite his more general role as antagonist who seems to literally seek Antonio's flesh and blood. Here, as Shylock describes the rules he follows as he interacts with society, he also expresses the categorical isolation he feels as a member of the Jewish community, who is largely excluded from social aspects within the Christian Venice. He can participate in the public space of the marketplace and engage in commerce (and "buy," "sell," and "walk" with others), but he cannot (or will not) enter the more intimate spaces (to engage in worship or participate in meals). Here, though, Shylock is delivering these words in a public street; we cannot be sure whether he is accurately describing his own feelings of isolation, or merely harnessing this social reality to suit his needs in this conversation. 
Act 3, scene 2 Quotes
If he lose, he makes a swan-like end,
Fading in music.
Related Characters: Portia (speaker), Bassanio
Page Number: 3.2.46-47
Explanation and Analysis:

While Bassanio chooses between the lead, silver, and gold caskets to hopefully win Portia, Portia leads other members of her household in song, which will either provide Bassanio with "a swan-like end, / Fading with music" or will surround Bassanio's victory with appropriate fanfare. In this play, music will reappear in the context of Lorenzo and Jessica's moonlit love; music serves as an indicator of feelings which require a higher register in order to be truly expressed. Portia also relies on animal imagery, which reappears to either further denigrate characters such as Shylock or further elevate figures such as her ideal suitor Bassanio.

There is no vice so simple but assumes
Some mark of virtue in his outward parts.
Related Characters: Bassanio (speaker)
Page Number: 3.2.83-84
Explanation and Analysis:

As Bassanio chooses between the gold, silver, and lead caskets, he delivers an ornate speech about the deceptive nature of ornament -- in fields as diverse as law, religion, and beauty. In doing so, he connects these separate topics which resurface throughout the play, emphasizing the importance of substance over style. He interprets the caskets correctly, or as Portia's father would, at least, and and will choose the appropriate casket as he rejects "gaudy gold" in favor of "meagre lead." Of course, he is still drawn to Portia's beauty, and his speech is delivered with a sheen of eloquence, so the content of his speech is not entirely convincing, especially in this play which is otherwise occupied with wealth and disguises.  

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Bassanio Character Timeline in The Merchant of Venice

The timeline below shows where the character Bassanio appears in The Merchant of Venice. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, scene 1
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Bassanio, a relative and close friend of Antonio's, enters with his friends Lorenzo and Gratiano. After... (full context)
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon
Reading and Interpretation Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Lorenzo and Gratiano announce that they must depart, but will see Bassanio again at dinner. Before leaving, though, Lorenzo notes that Antonio looks unwell. Antonio responds that,... (full context)
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Once alone, Bassanio apologizes for Gratiano's insensitivity and reveals why he's come to see Antonio. He is in... (full context)
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
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...for his friend and is happy to place both his "purse" and his "person" at Bassanio's disposal. Though Antonio has no cash available at the moment because he's invested everything in... (full context)
Act 1, scene 2
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon
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Nerissa asks Portia whether she remembers a Venetian man who once came—Bassanio. Portia does, fondly. Just then, a servant enters. He informs Portia that the suitors who... (full context)
Act 1, scene 3
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Back in Venice, Bassanio is trying to convince Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, to lend him 3,000 ducats for three... (full context)
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
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Shylock then asks whether he can speak with Antonio himself. Bassanio invites Shylock to dine with them both that night, but Shylock declines. Although he will... (full context)
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Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
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...will break his personal principle in order to help his friend. Shylock agrees to lend Bassanio the money. (full context)
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Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
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Antonio agrees, despite Bassanio's nervousness about binding his friend to such a potentially dangerous contract. Talking to himself, Shylock... (full context)
Act 2, scene 2
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At this moment, Bassanio arrives with Lorenzo and several followers. Launcelot and Gobbo seize the opportunity and beg Bassanio... (full context)
Act 2, scene 4
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon
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...former master, Shylock's, house, to invite Shylock to dinner on behalf of his new master, Bassanio, Lorenzo asks Launcelot to secretly bring Jessica the message that Lorenzo will not fail her.... (full context)
Act 2, scene 6
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...head out into the street, Antonio intercepts them. He scolds Gratiano for being late to Bassanio's dinner, and says that Bassanio is preparing to leave on a boat for Belmont right... (full context)
Act 2, scene 8
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On the street in Venice, Salerio and Solanio gossip about Jessica and Lorenzo's elopement and Bassanio's departure for Belmont to woo Portia. They laugh about Shylock's desperate search for Jessica. Upon... (full context)
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
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Solanio says of Antonio, "a kinder gentleman treads not the earth." He adds that when Bassanio departed for Belmont, he overheard Antonio tell Bassanio not to worry about the money he... (full context)
Act 3, scene 2
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In Belmont, Portia begs Bassanio to delay before making his choice among the caskets. If he chooses incorrectly, she will... (full context)
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Portia instructs that music should be played so that, if Bassanio chooses incorrectly, he will at least make a "swan like end." The song commences: "Tell... (full context)
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Bassanio opens the lead casket. Inside, he finds a painting of Portia and a poem praising... (full context)
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Nerissa and Gratiano, who have been watching, express their joy. Gratiano, seizing the moment, asks Bassanio for permission to marry, confessing that he has already fallen in love with Nerissa. Nerissa... (full context)
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Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
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Lorenzo and Jessica enter with Salerio. Bassanio and Portia welcome them. Salerio explains that he is carrying a letter from Antonio for... (full context)
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Bassanio gets increasingly upset as he reads the letter. He tells Portia about the money he... (full context)
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Portia asks Bassanio whether Antonio is a dear friend. When Bassanio affirms that he is, Portia offers to... (full context)
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Bassanio reads the text aloud. In it, Antonio confesses to that there is no chance that... (full context)
Act 3, scene 3
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...to cut a pound of flesh from him. Then, he urges the jailer on. If Bassanio comes to see him pay his debt, Antonio says, he does not care whether he... (full context)
Act 3, scene 4
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Back at Belmont, after Bassanio's hasty departure, Lorenzo and Portia are chatting. Lorenzo reassures Portia that if she knew what... (full context)
Act 4, scene 1
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon
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Bassanio, who is in the gathered crowd, tries to argue with Shylock. But Antonio interrupts, telling... (full context)
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...that a messenger has come bearing letters from Bellario, and goes to get him. Privately, Bassanio urges Antonio to try to keep his spirits up, but Antonio responds that he is... (full context)
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Portia asks if Antonio has the money to repay Shylock. Bassanio responds that he has offered up to ten times the sum of money owed, but... (full context)
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Portia asks Antonio for any last words. Antonio tells Bassanio not to grieve, to send his best wishes to Portia, and to speak well of... (full context)
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Shylock, stunned, quickly backtracks, and decides to take Bassanio's prior offer of 9000 ducats. Bassanio is ready to accept, but Portia stops him. She... (full context)
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...dinner. She declines on the grounds that she must get back to Padua. Antonio and Bassanio also thank Portia. Bassanio tries give Portia the 3000 ducats he'd brought to pay off... (full context)
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After Portia and Nerissa exit, Antonio tells Bassanio that he should value Balthazar's efforts to save Antonio's life more than his wife's orders,... (full context)
Act 4, scene 2
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
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Gratiano enters, carrying the ring from Bassanio. He tells Portia that Bassanio has sent the ring and asks him to join them... (full context)
Act 5, scene 1
Human and Animal Theme Icon
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...that Portia will be back before daybreak from the monastery. He asks to know whether Bassanio has returned yet. Lorenzo says that they have received no word for him. Launcelot enters,... (full context)
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...the music dies down, Lorenzo recognizes Portia's voice and welcomes her home. She asks whether Bassanio and Gratiano have yet returned. Lorenzo replies that they have not, but that a messenger... (full context)
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At that moment, Bassanio, Antonio, and Gratiano enter. Portia welcomes Bassanio home; Bassanio introduces Antonio and asks her to... (full context)
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...with it, and she is sure he never would. Gratiano blurts out in protest that Bassanio did give his ring away, to a judge who had earned it, and asked for... (full context)
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Bassanio admits it is true. Portia pretends to be furious. She swears that she will never... (full context)
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...ring, which she pretends is a different ring, and tells him to give it to Bassanio and to tell Bassanio not to lose it. When he sees the ring, Bassanio is... (full context)