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

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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. This is the case in Venice as no amount of money could buy Shylock the happiness he wanted. His daughter Jessica, in her opening lines, exclaims, ‘Our house is hell’, showing she is not content with her privileged life in Venice (the real world) because she is still miserable even with all the money she possess.

This contrasts with Belmont where the rich, happy and sophisticated society lives. Belmont is a fictional place full of love and happiness and Shakespeare portrays this as the fairytale world that we would all love to be in. Evidently the fictional world of Belmont is where all the romance, happiness and most of the comedy occur, as the bad and tragic events take place in Venice. The good worthy people depart to Belmont in high spirits leaving Shylock alone, penniless and heartbroken in Venice.  The play happily ends in Belmont with three couples blissfully in love and all is well with everyone. The fact that Jessica and Lorenzo have chosen to elope to Belmont shows that happiness comes to those who deserve it, just like a fairy tale.

The type of comedy in each setting also differs slightly. In Belmont the humour is witty between Portia and Nerissa, or light hearted mocking of the dreadful suitors using stereotypical traits to each nationality. Whereas, in Venice there is little comedy except from Launcelot and Gratiano which is constant insulting and snobbery towards Shylock about being Jewish and of his daughter Jessica eloping and turning Christian. This again adds to the enchanting image we have of Belmont and the vulgar image we have of Venice.

The classic storyline in any fairytale is good overcoming evil and Shakespeare uses this plotline in ‘The Merchant of Venice’. Antonio is seen as a kind-hearted person who values his friends’ happiness over his own and is in some ways naïve. He is referred to constantly as ‘good Antonio’ and ‘respected Antonio’. Shylock, the evil villain, looks as if he may win at the trial but Antonio is saved, thus restoring the good versus evil balance. This is archetypal of a fairytale in which the villain is usually killed or banished and the hero and heroine live happily ever after with their friends in a beautiful far away kingdom- Belmont.

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Every fairytale has an evil villain whose function is to scare, deceive and intimidate, the villain in ‘The Merchant of Venice’ is Shylock, a cruel miser. The very fact that he is Jewish reinforces the idea of him being immoral as Jews were believed to be less worthy that Christians, and known for money lending with high interest. People believed that the Jews murdered Christ and were therefore in the league of the devil, which is why Shylock is continuously referred to as ‘the devil’ in the play. Throughout history Jews have been persecuted and as an audience today, ...

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