The Merchant of Venice as a Tragi-Comedy

Consider the Merchant of Venice as a Tragi-Comedy

The Merchant of Venice as a Tragi-Comedy : The Merchant of Venice has generally been classified as a romantic comedy which means a play containing a number of romantic elements and a number of comic elements, skillfully and artistically mixed together. But almost every romantic comedy of Shakespeare has a number of serious elements too, and some of these serious elements come very close to becoming tragic which makes the play a tragi comedy.

The Merchant of Venice as a Tragi-Comedy

We think that Shakespeare’s whole intention from the very beginning was to write a play containing all three elements – serious and tragic, comic and romantic. The casket story is a supreme example of romance. Although Portia can be won as a wife only through a choice of the right casket which on the surface seems to be a kind of lottery, yet the successful choice made by Bassanio is, in its essence, wholly romantic. The love of Jessica and Lorenzo is even more romantic because of the great danger to which both the lovers expose themselves by running away together. The friendship between Antonio and Bassanio between two males is also romantic. In this play Shakespeare violates all the three classical unities the unity of time, the unity of place, and the unity of action and this violation is also romantic.

There is plenty of in this play too. The conflict between the devil in Launcelot and the conscience in him his very amusing. His be-fooling of his aged, blind father is as example of farcical humour. But it is the sense of humour and the wit of Portia and of Gratiano which impart to the play a truly comic quality. We find Portia’s brilliant wit when she pokes fun at her English suitor:

“How oddly he is suited! I think he bought his doublet in Italy, his round hose in France, his bonnet in Germany and his behaviour everywhere.”

The bond story which is the principal story of the play contains much off the stuff that is tragic enough and seems to offer the most unpromising material for a comedy. Antonio signs the fatal bond to fetch money for his friend from Shylock. As time passes, Antonio does little to prevent the forfeiture of the bond when three months pass away he is in the clutches of Shylock. When Shylock is requested in the trail scene to shoe mercy to Antonio he invokes the law and demands the “penalty and forfeit” of his bond. Then everybody is on the brink of a tragedy. Shylock is about to cut off the pound of flesh from Antonio’s body just then Portia defeats the cruel purpose of the Jew by her “legal quibble”, “the bond doth give thee not jot of blood”. She bids Shylock –

“Take then the bond, take thou the pound of flesh;

But in the cutting it if thou dost shed

One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods

Are by the laws of Venice confiscate

Unto the state of Venice.”

The Jew as failed in his purpose of revenge on Antonio is let off on condition that he be turned into a Christian and give his property to his daughter and son-in-law. The situation which was fraught with tragedy is reversed and takes a turn towards happy ending.  Shylock now a tragic figure leaves the court a broken man. There is joy all around.  Thus the drama ends happily for Antonio but tragically for Shylock. Thus the very mingling of the comic tragic elements makes The Merchant of Venice a tragi-comedy (or a romantic comedy).

Read it also: One Act Play : Origin and Development

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