Merchant of Venice – a tragedy or a comedy

One of the Shakespeare’s most powerful, strange, uncomfortable plays. A play about a piece of paper with a promise, a dangerous promise, and yet its a comedy. Sometimes showcasing the relation between Jews and Christians, sometimes, comedy and tragedy, and sometimes between those who are at center and the margins. Yet, it is a play that engages with toxic materials, with the major themes of self interest, the divine quality of mercy, hatred as a cyclical phenomenon.

Though, the play begins with a comic, but not entirely lighthearted way with a group of friends – male friends. But as the play proceeds, through act two, the story turns to unfold, and it is out of the history of hatred and suspicion that the play withstands in a new way. And turns into a tragic event. In act three is a famous moment, where the speech of Shylock (one of the tragic figures of the play) is a declaration of shared humanity. This speech makes the extremely strong claim of the opposite, that we share the same being. But it is also worth remembering that the speech ends with a declaration of determination to revenge.

This is a play that says if you treat me this way, I will want to get my revenge. And I have learned that also from you, because when you are treated badly you want revenge.

This play stages rage on the part of the persecuted minority. The determination on the part of Shylock to kill his enemy.

Going all the way through the act four, we,as an audience,experience that it might turn out to be one of the tragic plays, as is clear from the trial scene, ending up with Antonio’s death. But, lastly ends up with a happily -ever- after mood. In act five, everyone marrying their loved ones, changing of lives.

Genre –

There are two ways that people tend to think about comedy, a more romantic idea and a more satiric idea. And the romance is what throws the emphasis on the reconciliation.

When the play begins, fulfilling the audience’s expectations of what a comedy might look like, we have young men bantering with each other, teasing Antonio about the fact that he is sad. We also have the introduction of marriage plot, we learn that Bassanio wants to woo Portia. Also, Portia wants to find an acceptable husband. The play also goes towards a romantic play, a myths, fairy tales, romance stories that audiences might be familiar with, like involving the casket test. Audience might have reacted with some surprise when we hear this tragic news that Antonio has defaulted, that his life is in danger.

Thus, this is a play that leaves the audiences awestruck with its continuously changing moods, starting rightly from a comic pace, to going through some tragic moments, and finally ending up with a rom-com arena. Which is why most of the playwrights often misconceptualise it and try to mould it in a way which suits their audiences the most.