From the onset of the play, Antonio is not displayed as a jovial character. He is portrayed as one who has melancholic moods.
Though some scholars do not have express reason that makes him sad, Antonio does not seem to know either why he is sad. He says in his poem that he does not know why he is sad but it wears him down. In scene 1, his friends, Salanio and Salarino, indicate that he is depressed and angry due to the business of his ships which seems to be going down the drain. Antonio is shown as a filthy rich merchant. He has invested a lot of money on ships and all of them are currently in the sea. The ships are under destructive waves. Be that as it may, Antonio does not agree to buy into this explanation by his friends about his melancholic mood. He goes ahead to say that he does not know why he feels so sad. He says that he has to learn a lot of things to establish the main reason behind his sadness. The depressed feeling affects him too much and he suggests that Salanio and Salarino have become weary of his sadness as well. Antonio says that he will do some retrospection and introspection to understand the cause of his sad mood.
Salarino says that the sad mood of Antonio is due to the ships which are under the mercy of the unpredictable waves of the seas. The ship duck and rock against the waves and Salarino says that Antonio was very sad. However, in response, Antonio says that if his sorrowful mood was due to his ships in the seas, he could have started to study various sea maps to try and find safe harbors and ports. He could be finding objects that can help make his sea venture safer than it is currently. The implication of this, therefore, is that the ships do not have anything to do with Antonio’s mood.
Salanio has a different view of Antonio’s melancholy and he tries to propagate his argument through the use of metaphors. He tries to insinuate that Antonio is wary of the dangers his ships are facing deep in the sea and that they could be damaged by the terrible winds. Salanio also observes that the ships could be caught up in some parts of the ocean with wind or be banked by the sand in moments when the tides are low. Salanio is of the view that if such thoughts are harbored, they would make anyone sad including the daring Antonio. Salanio, therefore, says that these thoughts could be the cause of Antonio’s despondency.
In response, however, Antonio assures Salanio that his argument is not true since he has not put all his money on one ship. Moreover, Antonio says that he does not trust his ships to venture into a single destination. Antonio also says that he has not put all his investments in the seas only hoping to get returns in a single year. He has calculated his risks well and he knows where to expect more in case all goes well as planned.
On the suggestion that his sadness could be as a result of being in love, Antonio does away with the idea. Salanio says that Antonio is sad because he has no one to make him merry or laugh. Another possible reason that could be making Antonio sad is that his close bosom buddy, Bassanio, is almost getting married since he has already sought the approval of Portia in marriage. Since Antonio is a very close friend of Bassanio, he does not seem to enjoy this story since he will have no one to share with. He sees that his time with Bassanio will be limited. Antonio does not want to lose Bassanio to Portia and he is afraid of losing him.
Antonio could also be sad because he cannot lend Bassanio money since his money is tied to the ships. Bassanio wants to travel to Belmont and he needs money. Since Antonio cannot manage to lend him money, he leads Bassanio to Shylock who accepts to lend the required money to Bassanio. The condition of the loan is that Shylock would get a part of Antonio’s flesh in case the loan defaults. The reader knows that Antonio does not have a soft spot towards Shylock. Antonio says that he does not accept to borrow or lend money upon visiting Shylock. Antonio is seen to get worried the moment he learns that he could forfeit his loan due to the terrible news surrounding his ships. The condition of the ships worries Antonio more since he understands too well that Shylock does not mince his words and he could put Antonio’s life in danger.
Antonio’s melancholic mood as explained by various scholars is mainly due to his investments. He seems to have put all his eggs in one basket and has refused to diversify his business ventures. Antonio is a rich person who can do a variety of businesses but he chose to go the way of the high seas. His ships are all under threat due to the waves of the sea. He has no control over what happens in the sea yet this is all he relies on to eke a living. Moreover, he has used the same venture to guarantee his buddy a loan and has even committed his flesh to it. What a man! Antonio.