Antonio is a merchant of Venice who has invested deeply in overseas ventures, to the extent that he no longer has any ready money left.
However, he is highly respected in the merchants’ quarter, and his credit is strong with them, especially since he has dispersed his investments widely enough that it is unlikely they will all fail. He is a deeply melancholic man, strongly attached to Bassanio, and for love of him risks his credit to the tune of three thousand ducats to allow the younger man to woo his lady. He is also known for lending to friends and taking no interest, and he despises those who do otherwise, particularly Shylock – at times even paying the debt of people trapped by their borrowing from the moneylender. The level of detestation he has for that man has led him even to the indignity of spitting on him, and it is an uncomfortable moment when he is brought to have to borrow money from the man he has publically called a dog. When Shylock calls him out on his previous insulting behavior, he merely grows irate and insults him some more. Antonio is so certain of the return of his ships that he accepts Shylock’s bond of a pound of flesh should he default on repaying the loan in time. Over the next three months, however, his ships are wrecked one by one, and he is left owing the pound of flesh to Shylock. Finding the moneylender impossible to reason with, he resolves to cease trying, and readies himself to die, hoping only for Bassanio to come and see him one last time before then. On being saved by the unexpected advocacy of the young lawyer, he is merciful, merely making sure that Shylock’s daughter and her husband, Antonio’s young friend Lorenzo, will inherit his wealth, and that the Jewish moneylender’s soul will be saved by his becoming a Christian. In thanks, he gives his gloves to the young lawyer when so requested, and convinces Bassanio to give up the ring the lawyer wants. He goes with Bassanio to Belmont, where he discovers the lawyer’s identity, and that he is not ruined after all, as three of his ships have come to port.