** Consider the play as a tragicomedy
Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice' is a comedy with a difference. It was written almost certainly between 1596 & 1598. The play is classed as one of the 16 comedy plays but it is also a 'problem' play due to the tragic elements woven throughout the intricate plot. The play concludes with a harmonious ending but all through the plot, reoccurring themes of sadness and tragedy are included.
In terms of dramatic structure, "The Merchant of Venice" is undoubtedly a comedy. It follows the typical upward trajectory of comedy (beginning complication to ending resolution}. Act 1 introduces the plays main complication, but it also sets the tone for comic expectation by establishing upward rhythm of comedy in each of its three scenes. Antonio and Portia's melancholy are shortly alleviated by appropriate distractions & hope. Bassanio hopes to thrive, Antonio tries to help his friend, Portia will not have to worry about being chosen by the suitors she has mocked. Bassanio and Antonio get what they mistakenly but happily think is a friendly loan and Shylock mistakenly and happily, he has hit upon a winning scenario. After the opening act has set the rhythm and expectation of comedy, there is increasing fluctuation of the rising and dashing of hopes because of the various characters choices. Raised hopes and satisfaction however outweigh dashed hopes and dissatisfaction. Launcelot, Jessica, Lorenzo, Portia, Nerrisa, Gratiano & Antonio all escape the danger they most fear and realize their aspirations. Morocco, Arragon, Shylock and Antonio all suffer losses. However, Morocco and Arragon receive the strict justice of their penalty that they swore oaths to accept but both Shylock & Antonio are spared death & half of their financial losses are recovered.
The plot devices used in "The Merchant of Venice" are quite typical of romantic comedies. For example, external forces keep the lovers apart, not by shortcomings in their own characters or incompatibility. These forces include arbitrary laws & restrictions (the conditions of Portia's fathers will) & cases of mistaken identity, often involving the wearing of disguises.
"The Merchant of Venice" is a play about friendship & love. In the first scene itself Antonio displays the nature of love & friendship he feels for Bassanio, "My purse, my person, my extremest means lie all unlocked to your occasions". There is also a predominance of young people and many pairs of lovers and multiple marriages are present in the play.
Another common feature of comedies is that the original problem is often less important and complex than the original solution. This is certainly true in "The Merchant of Venice". At the beginning of the play, Bassanios 'problem' is supposedly that he wants to repay the debt he owes Antonio Even though Antonio does not care Very much about getting his money back. Bassanio's solution to this problem courting and marrying a beautiful heiress promises to be pleasant enough for him but requires turning Antonio into a debtor himself & even endangering his very life. Only in the world of comedy would this sequence of events be accepted without question.
However, "The Merchant of Venice" is too dark to be considered merely as a romantic comedy. It has come more & more to be seen as a play, which introduces into Shakespearean comedy a range of disturbing tones. Even if we allow structure to dominate, arguing that love wins over hatred & Shylock is primarily a function of the overall design, there are too many disquieting elements to allow any complacency. Shylock far from being a mere plot device, is a character of considerable dramatic power & he is presented as embodying an intractable mixture of racial vulnerability & obdurate insistence upon the inviolability of commercial & legal facts. He was hindered and insulted by Antonio for which he wants to kill the merchant. His thrust for revenge suggests an anger that a petty spirit...
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