The play "The Merchant of Venice" is described as Romantic Comedy. One aspect of Romantic Comedy is that it should contain Romance. This is evident in the fictional romance of Portia's marriage lottery in the Three Casket Story.

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Hamza Jafree 10W2

The Merchant of Venice

The play “The Merchant of Venice” is described as Romantic Comedy. One aspect of Romantic Comedy is that it should contain Romance. This is evident in the fictional romance of Portia’s marriage lottery in the Three Casket Story.

Another aspect of Romantic comedy is evident when the central character Antonio is saved from Death and Disaster.

The rule of comedy is that however serious the conflict may be, it should “all end well” in a resolution. As the Italian poet Dante (1256-1326) wrote:

“A comedy is journey through hell to purgatory and up to heavens which ends well, but does not make the readers laugh.”

The play is described, as a comedy obeying all the conventions its settings is urban in Venice and countryside in Belmont, its characters middle class. It uses prose and iambic pentameter, there is a clownish comic servant (Lancelot) and a jester (Gratiano) Plot confusion arises from disguise and disaster is avoided, complications are resolved, marriage concluded.

The main thematic and structural elements of the play all belong to the category of Romantic comedy rather than tragedy or history. The basic action of the play is moved by two interconnecting stories:

  1. Bassanio’s courtship to a wealthy heiress of Belmont, Portia, which is straightforward romance.
  2. The story of the flesh bond is an ancient time narrative known to Shakespeare by II Pecorone (1558) set by Ser Giovanni Fiorentini and “the Jew of Malta” by Christopher Marlow.

I think to a modern day audience it is hard to classify the merchant of Venice as a comedy because the modern day audience would feel that the plot was “designed tragically”. Elements of harsh reality includes- the sinister and ruthless plan of Shylock also; his total and crushing defeat at the end, which brings the play more close to a tragedy rather than comedy.

The play has been turned away from the conventions of Romantic comedy by the union of the, lovers in Act 3 the middle of the play, a modern day audience would have expected to see the romance of Portia earlier. The love of Portia and Bassanio is not comic, it comes about through a test devised by Portia’s father to safe guard her against unsuitable suitors.

This kind of romance is normal to Elizabethan Audience because there is no alive interfering adult, however a modern day audience would consider this kind of courtship not leading freely to choose a marriage partner as it is through a attached condition of choosing the right casket.

Portia and Bassanio’s love is outwards looking (by choosing the right casket), self-sacrificing, comprehensive and mature unlike the mad love normally associated with romantic comedy. Bassanio is helped in every way toward this marriage. Portia is naturally attracted towards Bassanio and Portia does not go against her father’s will to win him. She values her father’s will more than her love. But news of Antonio being in danger meant postponing of the honeymoon meant the harmonious society promised by the conventions of Romantic comedy is not fulfilled, and Portia suffer financially and emotionally. As later in the play Lorenzo comments on this sacrifice for love:

“ You have a noble and true conceit of god like enmity, which appears most strongly in the bearing thus the absence of your lord.”        

No modern day heiress as a bride would do that. I think modern day theatregoers will consider this disturbing and class it tragic rather than comedy. However the play ends on a suitably romantic comic note as Gratiano, the most humorous of the lover’s promises a good life for his wife and shadow of Shylock has passed and Antonio is safely in Belmont and atmosphere is of love and Friendship.

The plot is tied together by friendship and love of Antonio and Bassanio, which becomes the story of hatred and revenge (Antonio versus Shylock).

Bassanio’s need for money to marry Portia, leads him to borrow from Antonio, who in turn borrows from Jewish moneylender, a usurer, Shylock.

Shylock is a member of racial and religious minority of Venice, where Christians are in majority, Shylock hates Christians in general and Antonio in particular for the racial and economic enmity towards him and his business of money lending. Seeing an opportunity to gain advantage over Antonio, Shylock proposes the flesh bond, which Antonio agrees to. If the debt is not repaid in the said period, shylock will be permitted to cut off a pound of his flesh. In this we see revenge tragedy in commercial Venice is counteracted by romance in magical Belmont.

The fiction of three-casket story in magical Belmont where Portia a wealthy heiress peruses her fathers will to choose her marriage partner by a successful suitor, who chooses correctly from the three caskets. This courtship romance works out perfectly for Portia, two suitors rejected for choosing incorrectly and eventually meeting her wanted suitor Bassanio, who chooses correctly. Thus ending the fairy tail courtship romance produces the perfect result for Portia.

Immediately after the resolution of the romance plot between Portia and Basssanio, the news of Antonio’s disaster comes his loss of ships at sea, resulting in the forfeit of the bond.  

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Shylock proceeds with his deadly suit against Antonio; according to the Venetian Law moneylender shylock has an answerable case.

Bassanio not only has won a rich heiress as a bride but also Portia is more enterprising and intelligent than him. She disguises herself as a lawyer and defends Antonio’s case skilfully and legally by producing statutes, which not only stops Shylock from proceeding with the case but also Shylock is defeated, he becomes vulnerable to death penalty for conspiring against Antonio’s life. The Jew is then offered a merciful settlement his life is spared on condition that he becomes a ...

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