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Do you sympathise with Shylock, and is the play a comedy or tragi-comedy as a result?

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Introduction

The Merchant of Venice Coursework Assignment Do you sympathise with Shylock, and is the play a comedy or tragi-comedy as a result? The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare was intended to be and is performed as a comedy; however throughout its several plots it has many tragic elements. For this reason it may be best described as a tragi-comedy. Of the plots, those involving Shylock, the Jewish moneylender are perhaps the most famous. As a Jew, Shylock is insulted and mistreated by the Christians of Venice; he is generally regarded as inferior. He remarks in his first scene; "You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, And spit upon my Jewish gabardine," the Venetian society hate him because of his race. However, he is an affluent man, having made a fortune from money lending, which was a typical Jewish profession at the time. Of Shylock's many Christian rivals he despises Antonio especially as he lends money free of interest thus undermining Shylock's business. In the play Bassanio, a young friend of Antonio a rich merchant, requires money to woo a young noble called Portia. Antonio, in order to get Bassanio his money goes to Shylock, who agrees to loan Antonio the money placing a bond or ...read more.

Middle

If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?" This is very powerful, relating back to how he is treated just because he is a Jew, despite his physical similarities, which we all share. This is set up to justify what he is about to do. The action then proceeds to the court and from the moment the judge says: "Send in the Jew," we see that he, just like the many others, is prejudiced against him. The court however, hesitant as they are, can find no problem with his contract and so Shylock comes incredibly close to killing Antonio right there, with a knife to his chest ready to remove the pound of flesh closest to his heart. We then see Bassanio offer great sums of money from his wealthy new marriage to Portia in order to save his friend. These are then tripled, but still Shylock stands by his bond. So we see that he was not the greedy character he was made out to be, but that he is greedy in an entirely different, more sinister way. ...read more.

Conclusion

There is also a strong argument for the humorous parts of the play being simple comic relief to break up and relieve the play's tension and other elements. Something, which at the time it was first being performed, was definitely effective and of which there is a sufficient amount for it to be a "tragi-comedy". There are lot of both these conflicting elements throughout the play, but it is where the two meet that it becomes most powerful and where it also becomes so controversial when considered today. So it is fitting to describe the play as a merger of both. A major problem in this debate is that language and communication as a whole have altered so dramatically in the 400 or so years since the writing, in which time the humour has not lost its meaning, but lots of it has become significantly less accessible to people today. Yet the comedy is still there, as is the tragedy with Antonio's near death and Shylock losing everything. Consequently, both these elements remain as the jointly dominant themes of the play and are inseparable in what can only be called the great tragi-comedy The Merchant of Venice. ...read more.

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