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Examination Questions on The Merchant of Venice

Question: What is the development of character in Bassanio?

Answer: Bassanio is an example of a type of young manhood to be found almost every day. Handsome, clever, pleasure-loving, and pleasure-seeking, but still with many noble traits, it is not until some sudden crisis occurs in his life that he discovers his own littleness, or that his friends realize how much there is in him that is truly manly and noble. His first act in the play is to borrow money not for the first time from Antonio in order to purchase a suitable outfit in which to woo a lady of great wealth whom he believes to be already prepossessed in his favor. He confesses to a feeling of great admiration for the lady, which is, in one of his temperament, probably his leading motive in seeking her, though he declares to Antonio, to spare the feelings of the cousin who had done so much for him, that his chief object is to gain money with which to pay his debts.

But shortly after his arrival at Belmont, his feelings undergo a sudden and unexpected revulsion. The utter truth and candor of the beautiful Portia, her implicit trust in his equally good faith, and her unreserved surrender of herself and all her fortune into his keeping, strip him of all his customary polite pleasantries, and leave him "bereft of all words"; but by the loss of the ornamental and self-admired flourishes, the manhood within him, already clearly discerned by the keener eyes of Antonio and Portia, is revealed to himself and to others more plainly than ever before. He recognizes at once how utterly despicable had been all mercenary motives, and rallies all his innate nobility to enable him to cope with the matchless creature who would, with a generous simplicity that was almost sublime, entrust him with her all-in-all.

With all his nobler energies thus suddenly aroused, the knowledge that Antonio's life is endangered through his fault, and the action incumbent upon him in consequence, are just the forces needed to continue and confirm the beneficial change already produced in his character. His conduct throughout the trial-scene testifies to the development going on within him, and gains the entire approval of the ever-watchful eyes of the youthful judge; so that in the fifth act, when complete harmony is at last restored, we feel that Bassanio, purified and elevated by her influence, though he may not be her equal, is yet worthy of his Portia.

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How to cite this article:
Miller, Bessie Porter. Shakespeare Examinations. Ed. William Taylor Thom, M. A. Boston: Ginn and Co., 1888. Shakespeare Online. 10 Aug. 2010. (date when you accessed the information) < >.

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