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...
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...s 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.
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