The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0876 Wednesday, 19 May 1999.
Date: Tuesday, 18 May 1999 10:27:57 -0400 (EDT)
Frank Whigham writes that Bassanio may not be "gay," and surely Frank is
right in that there does not appear to be any "smoking gun" in MV that
would nail down Bassanio's sexual preference. But I would add two
points: (1) Bassanio need not be gay for Antonio to fall in love with
him, and (2) as recent studies have emphasized, bisexuality may have
been more common in the Renaissance than it is (or appears to be) today.
Thus, the "love triangle" could still exist, if only in Antonio's mind,
because since time immemorial, ardent lovers have mistaken friendship
for love on the part of the beloved.
I consider Basssanio as a spendthrift young man, handsome and rather
fetching, who, like a lot of 19th-Century English aristocrats, formed
friendships with older men (sometimes more than friendships), and then
broke away to get married. This is a common enough pattern, and it puts
Antonio's situation in a rather tragic light. He seems destined to
"lose," yet another link with Shylock, like many others that I have
discussed before in the course of this thread. Antonio must yield to
Portia because his love is "un-Christian," just as Shylock must be
defeated because his way of life is "un-Christian." Interestingly,
Shylock's use of interest is condemned because it breeds wealth, but
Antonio seems condemned because he cannot breed as Portia can.
It never seems to cross the minds of the characters in this play that
ANY bond which yields increase might be good, or that a bond of love
between men might yield its own fruits, even if it does not produce
children. But I think that Shakespeare was aware of these things as he
wrote the play, and that's one of the reasons why MV seems to me more
subversive and questioning than orthodox interpretation allows.