Why is Antonio important to the play
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A Christian merchant of Venice, Antonio agrees to vouch for a loan to Bassanio from Shylock by putting a pound of his flesh up as collateral. He represents the pious Christian caring but Shakespeare was never one for flat main characters. Antonio also represents the Christian hypocrisy of condemning Shylock the Jew for everything from lending money for profit to being an ungodly Jew. The irony is that he takes a loan from the same man, Shylock, that he condemns. Antonio also seems to be in love with Bassanio. There is an element of homoeroticism involved that does not seem to be at play between Portia and Nerissa. Check out what Antonio says when he believes he is dying,
"Say how I lov'd you...bid her be the judge...Whether Bassanio had not once a love"