Discuss the view that 'The Merchant of Venice' is a comedy with tragic possibilities.

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Discuss the view that ‘The Merchant of Venice’ is a comedy with tragic possibilities.

        I consider The Merchant of Venice as a comedy with tragic possibilities mostly due to the melancholy ending which leaves the reader thinking whether what happened during the play could be considered morally good or not. Aristotle produced the first ideas about what a tragic and comic play were. Shakespeare altered this slightly but the Shakespearean model is still pretty much identical.

        I would define a comedy as everything a tragedy is not. In a tragedy all of the main action happens in one day and in that day there must be a revolution. Most of the time, the main character, or the tragic hero, is of noble birth or of high status so that when they die, which they most likely will, they fall far. This makes us feel sympathetic to the character. This happens as we let ourselves go through a, “willing suspension of belief” during the play, which makes us basically get emotionally involved in the play even though we know that the play is not real. A tragic play, because of this willing suspension of belief, excites the emotions of pity and fear. Pity is a synonym of sympathy and fear is felt due to the fact that we wonder what it would be like for us to be in that position and we are fearful of it. Catharsis, an idea of Aristotle which the audience feel they are watching the play. It is like a cleansing process as it teaches you not to become a murderer and so forth. It makes you into a better person. Whilst reading the merchant of Venice I felt Sympathy for Shylock and fear arose when Antonio was about to die. The play told me not to be criticising of others because of there beliefs. The Merchant of Venice consequently has the characteristics of a tragedy.

        A comedy is therefore is a play in which the main character, the comic hero, prospers. The ‘evil’ character therefore gets what is coming to him and usually dies. This was seen as a waste of time by Aristotle and I agree as in the end everyone is happy and there is no revolution. Pity and fear are not felt, and in its place is happiness. This means that there is not as much point in the play as things work out. When things don’t work out we feel sympathy and we learn a lesson. This is the Catharsis which makes us a better person. Even though you may have Catharsis experienced in a comedy due to the fact that it tells you not to be the like the ‘bad’ character, the catharsis from watching a tragic play is much greater. This is because we feel more intense emotions and it gets the audience thinking more about the issues in the play, whether they are social, cultural, legal, moral etc. The play has the basic layout of a comedy because you could say there is a comic villain, and a comic hero throughout the play but tragedy also comes into it as if you feel sympathy for Shylock he is the tragic hero.

        The comic characters in this play are Launcelot Gobbo and Old Gobbo. The Prince of Morocco and the Prince of Arragon can be seen as comic characters also for their extravagance and arrogance. The Prince of Morocco says he would “Outbrave the heart most daring on the earth” which is a very overconfident thing to say. In Act 2, Scene 2, Launcelot, referred to as the “clown” and Old Gobbo, his father, interact in a comic way. Due to the fact that Old Gobbo is blind and easy to fool Launcelot plays around with him and tricks him into thinking his son is dead even though he is talking about himself and is obviously not. Then when he tries to convince his father he is not dead, being the dim old man he is he says to Launcelot that he is “sure you are not Launcelot my boy.” This comic interaction continues but these characters are very minor, especially Old Gobbo as he does not appear at any other time unlike Launcelot who appears several times. However these are the most clearly comic characters as one is called a clown and one is very old and gullible. They may have been placed in the story to give the other characters some time to change, but mainly they are there to provide the audience with some comic relief. Launcelot would have been used to show that Shylock is a dull and unkind man as he leaves Shylock without a servant and becomes the servant of Bassanio who is portrayed as much kinder and interesting person. These comic characters would be used in a comedy. With these characters the play becomes much more light hearted and comic for the audience, creating a happy feeling of the play.

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        The Prince of Morocco and the Prince of Arragon are also minor roles in the play. There are comic as they are seen as big-headed and very flamboyant as they say things like “did I deserve no more than a fool’s head.” This is when Arragon is trying to seem incredibly intelligent above others as he mocks a man who would go for the golden casket and comically for the audience it was Morocco who would went for the Golden casket. Morocco is very proud and believes he is very worthy of Portia because of how noble and rich ...

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