Antonio is the titular hero of ' The Merchant of Venice'. He motivates the central action of the play. It is Antonio who is the merchant of Venice. Thus this drama has been named after him.
Antonio is a businessman. He is a very rich man of Venice. He is a very good man who helps others without any selfish motive. He is loved for his high integrity. His character has the touches of gravity and depression. In the beginning of the play he is in the grip of inexplicable sadness. He has certain careless attitudes towards many matters. It causes his ultimate ruin.
Antonio, no doubt, is a competent intellectual. He is even a psychologist. He has saved many from Shylock's clutches. There are various reasons for his melancholy. In fact, his sadness does not spring from pessimism. He resisted against Shylock and he is sure that his ships will return safely. These things declare that Antonio was not a pessimist.
Antonio is not only a rich man but a generous man also. The villain of the play hates him due to his generosity. His generosity is boundless. He is always ready to do anything for the welfare of anybody. Due to this quality of his character he is very popular. He is respected and loved by everyone. Once Bassanio says:
‘The dearest friend to me, the kindest man,
The best-conditioned and unwearied spirit,
In doing courtesies'.
Antonio is a true friend. He has great love for his friend Bassanio. For him he is always ready to sacrifice his life. For him he lends money from his enemy Shylock and takes risk of his life. It is an example of his ideal love and friendship. He is totally an unselfish person. He thinks only of others. Thus his character is lofty in the real sense of the term.
Though Antonio has a lot of virtues, he has some shortcomings in his character also. But overall he is a very good character. He has amazing tolerance, goodness and fortitude. He has a philosophic frame of mind. His goodness has been rewarded at the end of the play. He defeats Shylock in the court and his lost ships return safely.