Written sometime between 1596 to 1598, The Merchant Of Venice is classified as both and early Shakespearean comedy and as one of the Shakespeare’s problem plays. Scene 1 introduces one of the major plot points as well as several key characters. When Antonio, Solanio and Salarino enter at the beginning of the play, they are in the middle of the discussion about why Antonio is so sad. This “Sadness” of which Antonio claims not to know source of, becomes clear when he reveals to Bassanio that all of his fortunes are tied up to his ships out at sea.
In the opening lines, Shakespeare starts to sketch the characters and some of the atmosphere of the play. Antonio, for example, is presented as being sad and melancholic for which the reason is unknown. Although his friends (Solanio and Salarino) try to help him find the grounds of his sadness but they couldn’t do so, it was very strange to all of them. Despite its Sad opening, one should always remember that The Merchant of Venice is a romantic comedy and, like most of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies, it has a group of dashing, if not very profound, young men.
For example, Solanio and Salarino are not terribly important. Their lines are interchangeable, and they are not really distinguishable from one another. They represent an element of youthful fancy’s. Salarino begins, typically, with a thought in which Antonio’s ships are described as being like “rich burghers on the flood” and like birds, flying “with their woven wings. ” He continues into a delightfully fantastic series of imaginings; intended to bring Antonio out of his depression.
Thus, through the presentation on the stage of the sober, withdrawn Antonio, surrounded by the playful language and whimsy of the two young men, Shakespeare suggests in compressed form two of the elements of the play — the real dangers that the merchant of Venice will face and the world of youth and laughter which will be the background to the love stories of Bassanio and Portia, Lorenzo and Jessica, and Gratiano and Nerissa. This same note of gentle mockery is carried on when we see the entrance of three more young friends— Bassanio, Gratiano, and Lorenzo.
Again, Antonio’s mood is remarked on. Gratiano, especially, is cheerful and talkative, yet he is quite aware of his sparkle; he announces that he will “play the fool”; Gratiano talks, Bassanio tells Antonio, “of nothing, more than any man in all Venice,” and his willing assistant is Lorenzo; significantly, both of these characters are more distinctly drawn than Salanio or Salarino, and they will play more major roles in the development of the romantic plot and subplot of the play — Gratiano with Nerissa, and Lorenzo with Jessica.
One of the major purposes of this opening scene is to introduce Bassanio and his affection for Portia, which will constitute the major romantic plot and also set the story in motion. Antonio’s question concerning Bassanio’s affection for Portia is turned aside by Bassanio; he goes directly to the question of money, in order that the basis for the bond story can be laid. From his character it seems that Bassanio is a careless person when it comes to his money ; he seems, furthermore, to have no hesitation about making more request to a friend who has already done much for him. Yet, one cannot level harsh moral judgment’s upon Bassanio.
According to the Venetian (and Elizabethan) view, Bassanio is behaving as any young man of his station might be expected to behave; he is young, he is in love, and he is broke which can be clearly seen from his speech. By Antonio’s promise, one can conclude that these two have strong bond of friendship between them. As, neither of them seems to be concerned about money at this point; one is a wealthy merchant and the other, a young lover. This is a quality which we shall notice throughout the play in context with both Bassanio and Portia; both of them recognize the necessity of money, but neither of them respect the value of money.
In their world there’s only love and affection, they feel that they don’t need to be concerned with money. Considering again Bassanio’s problem with money and Antonio’s reaction to it, note that Bassanio is straightforward in this scene with Antonio. His request is made “in pure innocence,” and we take it at its face value. He is frank considering his poverty, and making a request to Antonio. We must recall that Shakespeare wants to make us aware of some defect in one of his characters. The absolute and unconditional friendship between Antonio and Bassanio is one of the assumptions of the play, and we must never