Merchant of Venice Characters (Sparknotes)

Antonio The merchant whose love for his friend Bassanio prompts him to sign Shylock’s contract and almost lose his life. He is something of a mercurial figure, often inexplicably melancholy and, as Shylock points out, possessed of an incorrigible dislike of Jews. Nonetheless, he is beloved of his friends and proves merciful to Shylock, albeit with conditions.
Bassanio A gentleman of Venice, and a kinsman and dear friend to Antonio. His love for the wealthy Portia leads him to borrow money from Shylock with Antonio as his guarantor. An ineffectual businessman, he proves himself a worthy suitor, correctly identifying the casket that contains Portia’s portrait.
Lorenzo A friend of Bassanio and Antonio, Lorenzo is in love with Shylock’s daughter, Jessica. He schemes to help Jessica escape from her father’s house, and he eventually elopes with her to Belmont.
Gratiano A friend of Bassanio’s who accompanies him to Belmont. A coarse and garrulous young man, he is Shylock’s most vocal and insulting critic during the trial. While Bassanio courts Portia, he falls in love with and eventually weds Portia’s lady-in-waiting, Nerissa.
Shylock A Jewish moneylender in Venice. Angered by his mistreatment at the hands of Venice’s Christians, particularly Antonio, he schemes to eke out his revenge by ruthlessly demanding as payment a pound of Antonio’s flesh. Although seen by the rest of the play’s characters as an inhuman monster, he at times diverges from stereotype and reveals himself to be quite human. These contradictions, and his eloquent expressions of hatred, have earned him a place as one of Shakespeare’s most memorable characters.
Portia A wealthy heiress from Belmont. Her beauty is matched only by her intelligence. Bound by a clause in her father’s will that forces her to marry whichever suitor chooses correctly among three caskets, she is nonetheless able to marry her true love, Bassanio. Far and away the most clever of the play’s characters, it is she, in the disguise of a young law clerk, who saves Antonio from Shylock’s knife.
Nerissa Portia’s lady-in-waiting and confidante. She marries Gratiano and escorts Portia on Portia’s trip to Venice by disguising herself as her law clerk.
Jessica Although she is Shylock’s daughter, she hates life in her father’s house, and elopes with the young Christian gentleman, Lorenzo. The fate of her soul is often in doubt: the play’s characters wonder if her marriage can overcome the fact that she was born a Jew, and we wonder if her sale of a ring given to her father by her mother is excessively callous.
Prince of Arragon An arrogant Spanish nobleman who also attempts to win Portia’s hand by picking a casket. Like the other prince, however, he chooses unwisely. He picks the silver casket, which gives him a message calling him an idiot instead of Portia’s hand.
Prince of Morocco A Moorish prince who seeks Portia’s hand in marriage. He asks Portia to ignore his dark countenance and seeks to win her by picking one of the three caskets. Certain that the caskets reflect Portia’s beauty and stature, he picks the gold chest, which proves to be incorrect.