top-rated free essay

The merchant of venice: Tragedy or Comedy?

By Ardizzle Dec 07, 2013 877 Words
William Shakespeare, widely regarded as the world’s greatest playwright, has revolutionized the world of English literature with his plays. Some of these plays are clear-cut comedies and tragedies, while others are more ambiguous. The Merchant of Venice is a play that falls under the latter type, and it has been hotly contested whether this literary work should be classified a comedy or a tragedy. However, since the majority of the characters received a happy ending, the abundance of comic relief scenes and characters, and lightheartedness of the plot relative to other Shakespearean works leads me to conclude that The Merchant of Venice is indeed a comedy.

One of the characteristics of a comedy is that it usually contains a happy resolution of conflict, and this was definitely reflected in the conclusion of The Merchant of Venice. “Happy endings” usually pertain to the protagonists or the main characters surviving or outlasting misfortune. Antonio being spared and cleared of any debt he owed Shylock by the Venetian courts (Act IV, scene i) is a prime example of the protagonist receiving satisfactory closure. In the drama building up to the court scene, Antonio’s best friend, Bassanio, had cut a deal with the devil as he borrowed money from the shrewd Shylock, with the stipulation that repayment would either be in ducats or a pound of Antonio’s flesh (Act I, scene iii). When Antonio’s business enterprise came crashing down abruptly, he had no means by which to repay Shylock, thus setting up the major conflict of The Merchant of Venice. Antonio’s ending is undoubtedly a happy one for his character, since his life was spared and he was cleared of any charges. Another example of a character with a favorable conclusion is Portia. Recently, her father had been pushing her toward marriage, and because of her many biases, she found it near impossible to find a suitable suitor (Act II, scene i). At the end of the play, she does, in fact, end up with the only man that’s ever caught her eye, Bassanio. These happy endings for primary characters are typical of Shakespearean comedies.

The Merchant of Venice is abounding with other typical Shakespearean comedy techniques like comic relief; humor that manifests itself in both situations and characters. The overall hilarity of the play is an ample reason to classify it as a comedy rather than a tragedy. Shakespeare inserts comic relief scenes at opportune times in this play to relieve tension, and Jessica and Launcelot’s banter in Act III, scene v is an excellent example of this. In the preceding scenes, Shylock has just hauled Antonio off to jail while Portia and Nerissa attempted to devise a scheme to rescue their future husbands’ friend – two very action-packed and intense developments in the story. However, immediately following these two scenes, Launcelot and Jessica are seen having a playful discussion about the correlation of Jewish refusal to consume pork and the rising prices of bacon, a conversation so wacky and out of place that it manages to diffuse much of the thickening tension. Comic relief is a literary device that extends to characters as well. The interactions between Launcelot and his father, Old Gobbo, are one of the more humorous moments of the play (Act II, scene ii), where Old Gobbo fails to recognize Launcelot as his son because of his ailing senses. Shakespeare utilized plenty of jokes that would have appealed to the audiences of his time here to rouse laughter. At its very root, a comedy is a drama with a humorous or satirical tone, and The Merchant of Venice’s comic relief scenes and characters provide the audience with this humorous air.

When compared to many of Shakespeare’s other dramatic works, The Merchant of Venice’s storyline is much more lighthearted and tame. This play turned out more like an episode of Beverly Hills, 90210 than something as grave and solemn as Macbeth or Othello. There are many attributes which corroborate this theory. For starters, cross dressing is used as a motif in The Merchant of Venice. When placed alongside a different play like Macbeth, where the motifs are critical matters like bad omens, borrowed robes, and façades, The Merchant of Venice does seem less serious. Also, the magnitude of its plot is definitely much less significant than a lot of Shakespeare’s other plays. The Merchant of Venice is primarily concerned with the interactions of Italian suitors and heiresses – much like the angsty teen dramas of today. On the other hand, plays like Julius Caesar revolve around recanting the epic downfalls of tyrannical politicians. Though not to undermine its literary significance, I am convinced that The Merchant of Venice is a less serious, more whimsical play than some of Shakespeare’s other works – a feel that comedies are supposed to have.

Plays can be like characters in that their real nature can be very ambiguous. The Merchant of Venice is heralded as a fine example of a comedy by some, while asserted to be a tragedy by others. This play can be clearly categorized as a comedy, because the majority of the characters received favorable conclusions, comic relief is in abundance, and the lighthearted, quirky nature of the plot.

Cite This Document

Related Documents

  • Merchant of Venice - a Tragedy or Comedy

    ...Why the Merchant of Venice is more tragic than comic * “The tragic feeling is invoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing, his sense of personal dignity” – Arthur Miller * Leading up to Shylock’s trial he undergoes a lot of struggle with regards to ...

    Read More
  • romance and comedy in merchant of venice

    ...Question 1.The Merchant of Venice: A Romantic Comedy From Insights, 1992 The Merchant of Venice is one of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies, probably written in 1596 and 1597, and forms one of a group of such comedies, along with The Two Gentlemen of Verona, As You Like It, andTwelfth Night. Romantic comedy was a popular and much-preferre...

    Read More
  • Tragedy or Comedy

    ...Tragedy or Comedy The play writer William Shakespeare is widely considered one the greatest playwrights in history. His work transformed English literature forever. Most of his plays were either comedies or tragedies and some seemed to have the line blurred between the two as they contain elements of both. The play Merchant of Venice is one of ...

    Read More
  • Merchant of Venice

    ...Merchant of Venice- Romantic Comedy or not? Introduction A romantic comedy is a play that integrates romantic elements as well as humour. In Shakespeare’s romantic comedies, the protagonists live happily ever after, and more often than not, the play ends with the tolling of wedding bells, with more than one couple getting married to crea...

    Read More
  • Merchant of Venice

    ...The Merchant of Venice Movie Production Matt Bomer as Antonio Matthew Bomer has an impressive and aristocratic bearing. No matter how tall he is, Matthew appears noble and upright. He is very much in control of the image he sends out to others. Bomer is elegant, graceful, and charismati...

    Read More
  • Merchant of Venice

    ...Alessandro Larosa How does Shakespeare present his ideas (themes, main points, the time, morality and reflection) within the merchant of Venice?   Introduction -   The play, the merchant of Venice, was written by Shakespeare. The play puts forward ideas and themes which are universal and relevant in today’s life. He uses techniques, ...

    Read More
  • The Merchant of Venice

    ...The Merchant of Venice "Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice is still relevant today because it deals with issues which still affect us. Show how two of those issues are discussed in the play." Throughout the play a distinction is made between how things appear on the outside and how they are in reality, or on the inside. The issu...

    Read More
  • The Merchant of Venice

    ...Parent-Child Relationship Between Jessica and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice After reading The Merchant of Venice, we should ask ourselves if Shylock, who many people perceive as tragedy stricken and victimized, is in fact so hard done by after all. When it comes to family matters, I believe that Shylock is the ultimate cause behind his a...

    Read More

Discover the Best Free Essays on StudyMode

Conquer writer's block once and for all.

High Quality Essays

Our library contains thousands of carefully selected free research papers and essays.

Popular Topics

No matter the topic you're researching, chances are we have it covered.