In The Merchant Of Venice by William Shakespeare, Act I Scene I

Antonio : Believe me, no: I thank my fortune for it,
               My ventures are not in one bottom trusted.
               Nor to one place;nor is my whole estate
               Upon the fortune of this present year:

               Therefore, my merchandise makes me not sad.

If his estate was not upon the fortune of that year, then why did the losses he had in his trade make him bankrupt? Elaborating on the point, Antonio explicitly mentions that his whole estate is not dependent upon the fortune of the present year. If that's the case, He shouldn't have been bankrupt because his financial situation, as he says, is well enough to sustain him even if all his ships sink and are miscarried. Is it another of Shakespeare's absent-minded errors?

1 Answer 1


Usually, as he says in the bit you quote, Antonio is cash-poor but ship-rich. He has many ships, so he can afford to loose one. But in Act III, scene 1 we learn

Why, yet it lives there unchecked that Antonio hath a ship of rich lading wrack’d on the narrow seas; the Goodwins, I think they call the place, a very dangerous flat and fatal, where the carcasses of many a tall ship lie buried, as they say, if my gossip Report be an honest woman of her word.

and then in III,2 Antonio sends a letter to Salerio and Bassanio. Salerio reads it first and Bassanio asks

Hath all his ventures fail'd? What, not one hit? From Tripolis, from Mexico, and England, From Lisbon, Barbary, and India, And not one vessel scape the dreadful touch Of merchant-marring rocks?

(Here "not one hit?" means "not one succeeded?".) The answer: "Not one, my lord". That is, all six ships are lost. Later in the scene Bassanio gives a direct quote from the letter, summarizing

Sweet Bassanio, my ships have all miscarried, my creditors grow cruel, my estate is very low, my bond to the Jew is forfeit, and since in paying it, it is impossible I should live, all debts are clear’d between you and I, if I might but see you at my death. Notwithstanding, use your pleasure. If your love do not persuade you to come, let not my letter.

So he has lost all his ships, and so his credit rating is downgraded: is now not only cash-poor but also ship-poor.

But (spoiler alert) in the last scene it turns out, deus ex machina style, that all this shipping news was mistaken, and Antonio is ship-rich after all.

  • Agreed but the fact that the turnover of that particular year couldn't affect his state at that point in time shows that he had enough money to sustain him. But I can even add on to this point by saying that Antonio in Act I Scene I says that he has neither money, nor commodity to raise a present sum. Thus it could also be right to say that he was cash-poor but ship-rich and also a thrifty businessman who was careless. Commented Jan 1, 2020 at 12:09
  • I'd like to wait for more opinions to come to light. Commented Jan 1, 2020 at 12:12

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