Big Paper 1
Ha! I Love You More
Everyone loves a martyr. He's that guy who not only suffered but died for his cause, his passion, his love. Bassanio may not be the most worthy cause to die for, but in Act IV of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, Antonio is resigned to do so. In his final words before Shylock is set to extract his pound of flesh, Antonio has abandoned efforts to prevent his punishment and assures Bassanio that the deed must be done for the benefit of all. Despite the grisly and morbid nature of the procedure, Antonio has many reasons to die under such circumstances.
This is the only way out. Antonio devotedly loves a man who cannot return the affections with the same intensity. Bassanio's love which rightfully belongs to Antonio is shared with Portia, the wife. And who is to compete with the love a man has for his wife? Antonio tells Bassanio, "I am arm'd and well prepar'd," in speaking of his impending death (IV.1.264). He has known that eventually someone would have to be removed from this triangle and he is ready to be the one. In dying he need not take part in conflicts for Bassanio's affections. As the third wheel in a marriage, Antonio would be the source of strife for Portia, seeing as she would have to vie for her husband's love and eventually, the unhappiness of his marriage would cause Bassanio to resent Antonio. But dying ensures him the affections he wants without the pain and bitterness of rejection.
While Antonio is able to see the advantages of martyrdom, he must convince Bassanio that as such a gracious and extraordinary friend, he is willing, even happy to die for him. Humility, is the natural and subtle way to impress, so Antonio speaks of how he is not only helping a friend, but really being spared the misery of longevity. He tells his friend,
Once Bassanio is assured of Antonio's noble, selfless love, it is time to flaunt to Portia how much more meaningful his love for Bassanio is than hers. She must see it, not only in Antonio's willingness to die, but in Bassanio's reaction to the death. "Commend me to your honorable wife,/ Tell her the process of Antonio's end,/ Say how I lov'd you, speak me fair in death" (IV.i.237-375). In knowing every bloody detail and the extent of agony in the slow, painful death, Portia will see that nothing she has done for her husband compares to the devotion of Antonio. She gives up her wealth as an offering to Bassanio, but she still basks in the lifestyle of the rich, and she still has her life. There is nothing she can do to out-perform Antonio in the competition for Bassanio's love and Antonio is aware of this. Even though he will be dead, he will have offered something to Bassanio which Portia cannot. He will secure his place in Bassanio's heart and while Bassanio's feeling toward Portia have the potential to change with time, Antonio will always be remembered as the devoted friend who lost his life on his behalf. When Bassanio speaks of him, he will not remember anything that would dishonor the man who sacrificed himself, that Bassanio might not suffer. Even in death the competition continues, but Antonio has the obvious advantage that he can do no wrong, unlike a living spouse. Antonio will be immortalized in Bassanio's mind, making Portia keenly aware that she is not the only object of his love.
Antonio does not only want Portia to know that Bassanio loves him, he wants her to question who is loved more. A marriage in which the husband willingly admits that his wife is not his only true love, is bound to be plagued with troubles, much to Antonio's delight. "And when the tale is told, bid her be judge/ Whether Bassanio had not once a love," Antonio requests (IV.i.276-277). Portia shall have it rubbed in her face that she is not the only one. A new dimension is added to their marriage when doubt is introduced. She can never be confident she is Bassanio's only spouse with the knowledge that he deeply loves another. Portia's role as Bassanio's wife is discounted by the fact that she is not the only person on this earth for him. It is not enough to be loved by Bassanio, Antonio must be the most valued person in Bassanio's life, and die with this satisfaction. Bassanio only confirms Antonio's hopes and Portia's nightmare when he states,
All this talk of sacrifice in the name of love is enough to make one feel extremely guilty for being the cause of his friend's death. If Antonio were to die and leave Bassanio carrying the blame, he would run the risk of being resented for causing the discomfort of guilt. It is important Bassanio feel the debt he owes Antonio, this most faithful of friends, without being burdened by negative feelings. Antonio is aware that his memory will be tainted if Bassanio feels too guilty, so he comforts his friend saying, "Repent but you that you shall lose your friend./ And he repents not that he pays your debt" (IV.1.278-279). He encourages Bassanio to mourn him and feel the pain of losing his most beloved friend. At the same time, he assures Bassanio that he is not losing his life begrudgingly. There is no need to accept the blame for the death of a person who is more than willing to die. Antonio wants to leave Bassanio with the impression that it is not because Bassanio is a selfish person that Antonio dies, but because Antonio is so selfless. Antonio never hesitates to do what he can for Bassanio, and even though he is forced to offer his own life, he does not experience a moment of regret. The blame is lifted from Bassanio's shoulders and placed on the shoulders of the man who knows only how to give everything for the one he loves. By easing the guilt, Antonio further secures his elevated position in Bassanio's heart.
To finish his eloquent acceptance of death speech, Antonio makes a final statement, leaving no question as to the extent of his love. His words seem plain enough as he states, "For if the Jew do cut but deep enough,/ I'll pay it instantly with all my heart" (IV.i.280-281). He is very right in that he will die if in the process of removing a pound of flesh from near his heart, Shylock cuts too deep. Beneath this surface meaning, Antonio speaks to Bassanio of his willingness to die. There is no hesitation when it comes to lending a hand, or a life to the man he loves. He does it instantly, without thought, as a reflex which reflects how loving Bassanio is second-nature to Antonio. And he does it with all his heart. There is no bitterness in taking responsibility for Bassanio's mistakes. With a love like his, Antonio cannot help but devote himself fully to Bassanio. This final statement is reassuring to Bassanio, but he also uses it to reassure himself. He is doing this because the pain of watching Bassanio with another love is unbearable. His life is wholeheartedly offered in order to spare himself the torment of observing the happy couple he will never be a part of.
Death is but a small price to pay for eternal love and admiration Antonio has to gain from Bassanio. Antonio wins when he dies. He wins the battle against Portia for Bassanio's love and he wins an escape from a long and lonely life of jealousy. The martyr is the most extreme illustration of devotion. He cannot be changed and is forever remembered for his selfless devotion.
Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. The Riverside Shakespeare. Eds. G. Blakemore Evans and J. J. M. Tobin. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997. 228-317.