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to what extent can the Merchant of Venice be seen as a fairytale

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Introduction

To what extent can ' The Merchant of Venice ' be described as a fairytale? Throughout 'The Merchant of Venice' Shakespeare uses many underlying structures reminiscent of fairytales. Fairytales were stories originally passed down orally to children to entertain or instruct. Most fairytales had similar characteristics such as having repeated elements that aid the audience to remember the story and help teach about moral issues. Shakespeare's comedies also have common elements such as love and deceit, usually involving marriage for unmarried characters and mistaken identities. Shakespeare's audience was wide, both intellectually and socially; his plays have storylines that usually deal with moral and family values, but all his comedies have a dilemma or dilemmas which are resolved with a happy ending. The play has two main settings which vary from each other considerably. Shakespeare never describes the locations but from the characters and scenes that happen there we can tell what kind of atmosphere and setting it has. One setting is the cosmopolitan city of Venice, where many businessmen live in a commerce and law driven world. The people there are unhappy, unkind and greedy. In the Elizabethan era Venice was renowned for its wealth and diversity of cultures, being in the middle of the East and West it was a great trading city. Shakespeare portrays Venice as the 'real world' full of suffering. Venice is where Shylock lives and is tried and punished. Throughout the play people in Venice are never happy and the beginning of the play reflects that with Antonio asking, 'why I am so sad' not giving the audience an immediate good impression of Venice. Shakespeare uses words such as 'hate' and 'spit' to add to the distressing image we already have of the city. The rich society in Venice is dependent on money for support and satisfaction which is a lesson that many fairytales teach, explaining that money doesn't buy you happiness. ...read more.

Middle

Unlike a fairytale Shakespeare makes the audience feel that Shylock has a hidden depth to his character due to prejudice and the suffering he has been subjected to over his life because of his religion. We are more sympathetic in this day and age, and maybe Shakespeare was ahead of his time when writing Shylock's speech where he asks the Christians why they hate him so much and treat him with such little respect because, 'Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?'. In a fairytale we never feel sorry for the villain but in 'The Merchant of Venice' Shakespeare makes you, as an audience, feel sympathetic towards him and makes the Christians in the play feel guilty. He shows that Shylock is human and just because he has a different religion he still has the right to dignity and to revenge himself because 'If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge! The villainy you teach me I will execute. It will go hard, but I will better the instruction,' makes you feel as if Shylock has ever right to his bond, as Antonio signed it and thus getting what he rightly deserves. Through this Shakespeare has added great dramatic tension because as an audience we don't know what will happened and what should happen to be fair to both Antonio and Shylock. Portia in some ways is a typical fairytale heroine as she is 'a lady richly left and she is fair', 'her sunny locks' giving the impression of long blonde hair maiden distinct to a fairytale princess' image. ...read more.

Conclusion

Whilst, Shakespeare does show Portia to have two distinct sides to her character, she still keeps the common Elizabethan view throughout the play, that true happiness and fulfilment comes with marriage and love, with her taking her rightful place in society. Nowadays, we would admire Portia's individuality but in Shakespeare's time many would have regarded her behaviour as troublesome and unrefined. Despite her independence Portia is not a rebel; she uses her talents in the service of others that she loves, her husband and friends, but still graciously accepts the subordinate wife role, 'This house, these servants and this same myself / Are yours, my lord'. In many ways 'The Merchant of Venice' can de described as a fairytale as the outline to the plot is consistent with that of a fairytale. It contains repetition of speech such as Shylock when telling Antonio to 'look to his bond' to secure the idea of his villainy in the audiences minds. Eventually, good overcomes evil and the happy ending in the fairyland of Belmont is where everything is resolved and social order is restored. The resolution itself is quick like a fairytale and everything that could be resolved is and there are no loose ends. However, Shakespeare has modified the simple storyline of a fairytale with its traditional values, and uniquely adapted it therefore making it appealing to his wide audience. In some ways, Portia is not seen as the passive princess that is rescued by Bassanio, but she is in fact the hero of the play. She being an active, intellectual and bold woman saves the unassertive Antonio from his death, making him to be the na�ve princess being saved. Most fairytales are very light hearted and never tragic, but 'The Merchant of Venice' is exceedingly controversial and Shakespeare adds a great deal of political ideas involving racial awareness with the Prince of Morocco and anti-semitism towards Shylock. This is another reason as to the happy ending resolving all the issues, showing the audience that despite not ending in a marriage and having tragic events, the play was indeed a comedy. ...read more.

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