Shakespeare's Use of Trickery and Disguise in His Plays

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Shakespeare's Use of Trickery and Disguise In His Plays

Shakespeare uses similar comic elements to effect similar outcomes in his works. Many of his plays utilize trickery and disguise to accomplish similar endings.
Trickery plays a major role in The Merchant of Venice and drives most of the action, while mistaken identity, specifically Portia's disguise as the "learned attorney's" representative, plays a major role in the resolution of the play. The first instance of trickery in the play is Bassanio's plan to present himself as a financially sound suitor, when in truth, he is not. Bassanio believes that he would stand a very good chance of being the successful suitor if he had the proper money backing him. Bassanio then goes to his friend Antonio to try to secure a loan to provide for his wooing.

O my Antonio, had I but the means/To hold a rival
place with one of them [other suitors]/I have a
mind presages me such thrift/That I should
questionless be fortunate!" (Shakespeare,
Merchant 1.1 173-176)

However, Antonio has, "neither the money, nor commodity/to raise a present sum" but urges Bassanio to go through Venice to try to secure a loan using Antonio's bond as credit (Shakespeare, Merchant 1.1 178-179). One of the resident money-lenders of Venice is an individual called Shylock, a person of Jewish descent. The practice of usury was traditionally banned by the Christian church. This allowed many Jews, because their belief system contained no objection to profitable money-lending, to become the de facto loan officers. Bassanio approaches Shylock to ask for a loan, and Shylock seems as if he is going to agree, however, he first asks to speak with Antonio. It is revealed in an aside that Shylock harbors a secret hatred of Antonio because of his religion and Shylock's belief that Antonio's practices drive down the interest rates that Shylock can charge in Venice. Here we see the second instance of trickery and deception within The Merchant of Venice. Shylock seems to have great knowledge of the positions of Antonio's fleet and ominously notes that, "ships are but boards, sailors but men" (Shakespeare, Merchant 1.3 20). Earlier in the scene Shylock seems hesitant, which, "we can construe … as playing for time while he forms his plan (Barber 211). Shylock agrees to accept the loan, using Antonio's bond as credit, but refuses to charge interest on it. Instead, he chooses, in "merry sport," to insert a clause that states he will have the right to one pound of Antonio's flesh if the bond should be forfeited. Antonio, thinking that his ships will arrive before the date the loan falls due, agrees to the conditions that Shylock sets forth. Clearly, Shylock has calculated that the chances of Antonio's fleet not making it back to port are rather good, and this bit of trickery sets up the main action of the play.

Trickery is also present in The Taming of the Shrew. In this work, Bianca, the "good" daughter has three suitors vying for her love. Gremio, an old, prosperous, and well-respected gentleman; Hortensio, another gentleman in the town; and Lucentio, a newly arrived wealthy traveler, all will fight for her affections. Gremio figures very little in the courting of Bianca, mostly due to his age and small chance of success, but the remaining suitors hatch a plot to win the love of Bianca.

Hortensio and Lucentio decide to become schoolteachers, because Baptista, Bianca's father, is planning to find tutors for her. Hortensio decides to become a music teacher, and Lucentio a Latin teacher. They approach Baptista who consents to let them both tutor his daughters. The initial session, held with Kate, the shrew, does not go well for either, but then they are allowed to tutor Bianca. Lucentio eventually discloses his true identity to Bianca and tells her their plot. Bianca reveals that she is interested in Lucentio but still leads them both on for...
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