Angered by his mistreatment at the hands of Venice’s Christians, particularly Antonio, Shylock schemes to eke out his revenge by ruthlessly demanding as payment a pound of Antonio’s steers near me. Although seen by the rest of the play’s characters as an inhuman monster, Shylock at times diverges from stereotype and reveals himself to be quite human. Portia’s beauty is matched only by her intelligence.
Bound by a clause in her father’s will that forces her to marry whichever suitor chooses correctly among three caskets, Portia is nonetheless able to marry her true love, Bassanio. Far and away the most clever of the play’s characters, it is Portia, in the disguise of a young law clerk, who saves Antonio from Shylock’s knife. Antonio – The merchant whose love for his friend Bassanio prompts him to sign Shylock’s contract and almost lose his life. Antonio is something of a mercurial figure, often inexplicably melancholy and, as Shylock points out, possessed of an incorrigible dislike of Jews. Nonetheless, Antonio is beloved of his friends and proves merciful to Shylock, albeit with conditions.
Bassanio – A gentleman of Venice, and a kinsman and dear friend to Antonio. Bassanio’s love for the wealthy Portia leads him to borrow money from Shylock with Antonio as his guarantor. An ineffectual businessman, Bassanio proves himself a worthy suitor, correctly identifying the casket that contains Portia’s portrait. Gratiano – A friend of Bassanio’s who accompanies him to Belmont. A coarse and garrulous young man, Gratiano is Shylock’s most vocal and insulting critic during the trial.