Altruistic Antonios

Shakespeare writes so many love stories that I wish I could believe. The flowery language gets me every time until I find myself wondering what in the world makes two people who barely know each other fall in love.The most poignant type of love I have found in Shakespeare’s plays is not between a man and a woman, but rather an Antonio and a freeloader.

We discussed repetition of names Shakespeare uses, and I’ve found that there are characters named Antonio in four different plays.  The ones I’m concerned with are in The Merchant of Venice and Twelfth Night.  Though one Antonio is a title character and the other plays a much smaller role, I believe these two have much more in common than just their name.

The name Antonio means “priceless” and “of inestimable worth.” It is no coincidence that both characters are willing to offer everything they have in order to help a friend in need, even if that friend does not give anything in return.  In Twelfth Night, Antonio offers his money to Sebastian so that he can pick up necessities in town.  The merchant lends Bassanio more money at no interest, even though Bassanio is already in major debt to him. They love purely and unselfishly, expecting nothing in return, and this is reflected in how they handle their finances. Antonio offers to Bassanio, “my purse, my person.” His wealth is everything he has, and Bassanio squanders it. I’m intrigued to see how this plays out, because the fact that a character like Antonio could exist already makes my heart hurt. Can this type of altruistic love be real, whether romantic or in friendship? Though it is the most painful type of love to consider, it is also the most believable.

When other Shakespearean couples display love, it seems to be for shallow reasons.  With the Antonios, their value is based on their wealth.  Their money is their personage, and we can get a sense of the strength of their affections by how much they are willing to risk. This type of homosocial bonding we spoke of at the start of our studies resonates more with me than any other type of character relationships we’ve read.



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