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ENGL200 Composition and Literature, American Public University, USA


Topic: Classifying The Merchant of Venice:

Question: How do you think that we should view this play? Is it really a comedy? Is there any way to argue that it is a tragedy?

Answer: One of the most beautiful plays of Shakespeare which is celebrated even more today is The Merchant of Venice. This was published in the year 1956 by the author William Shakespeare which contains the story of Shylock who was a Jew by profession. The play revolves around Shylock lending money to Antonio with one unique condition in case Antonio defaults in repaying the amount lent by Shylock. The money taken by Antonio was with a purpose so that he can further lend the same to his friend named Bassanio with the intention of marrying Portia. Portia was disguised as a doctor who cleverly manipulates the law by making meaning of the agreement that were entered upon in between Shylock and Antonio. The condition was that in case Antonio fails to repay back the loan to Shylock then Shylock will be entitled to his flesh. However, Portia stated the fact that although Shylock was entitled for the flesh of Antonio since he failed to repay back loan but he was not entitled to spill any of the blood of Antonio. Portia cleverly stated that in case Shylock does so, his entire land and belongings will be confiscated by Venice. Therefore, when Shylock understands the fact that he will not be able to get the flesh of Antonio and so he demands for his money back. Portia again points the fact that Shylock will be subject to execution if he takes money. When it was realised by Shylock that he is surrounded and is left with no option, he agrees to take 3,000 ducats but again Portia refused to pay back since that amount was refused by Shylock in the court. Now, when he decided to let go the amount paid to Antonio, Portia points out another law wherein Shylock was entitled to lose entire of his wealth of which half of it will be given to the citizen whose life is being seek by the foreigner. Now, Antonio plays a game wherein he convince the Duke to pardon half of the wealth of state whereas the other half of his wealth have to be put in the trust. Other conditions kept forward were Shylock to become Christian, and all his wealth have to be left to the trust after he dies (Colston Ken, 2016). Therefore, at last we see that Shylock leaves as because he is cheated for all his financials and thus break down.

Now, the question that arrives is the classification of this play of Shakespeare under which categories, comedy, history or tragedy. To understand the same, it is very essential to understand what is comedy and tragedy for the classification of play. Comedy are when the people described or contained within the play sing, dances and rocks. The fact that it is not essential that a play to be classified as comedy needs to involve sexual humor or even needs to be funny. A comedy play requires happy ending. On the other hand, Tragedy is the opposite of comedy also popularly known as the mirror image of comedy. The tragedy shows the downfall of a central character of play.
According to me, the play is not a comedy one but it's a tragedy play. The fact that is a tragedy is because Shylock being the central character of the play becomes a broken man at the end since he is cheated upon and all his wealth are being taken away and so we can observe that there is no happy ending in this play. Moreover, the play meets all the conditions and requirements so that it can be classified as tragedy which are discussed as below:

• Pity and fear: As an audience on going through the play, The Merchant of Venice, I felt pity for the central character Shylock and was also full with fear with the actions taken upon by Antonio and Portia. These indicates the fact that the play consists of pains and sufferings of Shylock and therefore the natural response for the same was feeling pity and fearful.

• Central Character was admired: As an audience, I continued to admire Shylock throughout the entire play. The downfall of Shylock was disturbing and stirring my compassion. Therefore, at cases where Shylock was cheated upon and he was broken there was a sign of grief for him.

• Demise due to personal error: It is being stated that to classify a play as a true tragedy the fact that should be analysed is that the victim is not innocent nor the downfall of his has been resulted due to some blind incident. Instead of that, the character downfall results as because of his personal error in decision. In the play, The Merchant of Venice, the downfall of Shylock was not because of some bad accident, instead it was because he entered upon a weird provision while lending money to Antonio, wherein he was entitled to flesh of Antonio in case he fails to repay back the loan. Therefore, we see that the condition put by Shylock was very unreasonable and so he got into trouble of his own error and decision. This provision was manipulated by Portia for their own advantage leaving behind Shylock as a broken man with no wealth.


The fact that the play, The Merchant of Venice, is a tragedy and not comedy has been analysed and outlined as above. The type of tragedy here is a Revenge Tragedy as because the play dramatizes the fact that Antonio turns out to be a villain in the play by taking revenge on the condition put upon by Shylock while lending money to him which stated that Shylock will be entitled to his flesh in case he fails to pay back his money. Portia, by using the legal and technical laws took advantage of it and ultimately Shylock was left with nothing. All this happened because of Shylock putting very unreasonable condition on non-repayment of his loan (Harry Berger Jr, 2013). Therefore, this play should be categorised as revenge tragedy.

However, some people argue that this play cannot be classified as tragedy since Shylock is not deserved to be stated as a hero. The fact that the play had endings that is full with sorrow and the episodes constituted within the play are full with revenge. This play is very difficult to have given one classification since this play does not have all the features that should be present to constitute the same as comedy, tragedy and romance. This play describes the plot of hatred, question on honesty and manipulation in law have also been analysed. The fact that for a play to be described as tragedy needs to describe the hero as a person which have a moral standard and is of good cause. But in my opinion, the play is more towards being a tragic play instead of being comedy or of romance, because of the following reasons:

• At the end of the play, the main character Sherlock, is not happy and is a broken man.

• The entire play revolves around how the law was being manipulated by Portia for taking away the wealth of Sherlock

• There arises a question on honesty of people obtaining the loan since they can go up to all levels for getting the loan amount waived off along with having rights on the land and goods of Sherlock, the Jew.

• The audience on going through the play will barely laugh for the errors being described upon in the play.

Therefore, it can be clearly observed that the play "The Merchant of Venice" is described as a problem play or a dark comedy rather than being described as a pure tragedy or a pure comedy (Victoria M. Time, 1999). The play for me is tragedy one as described and highlighted above are the points for the justification of the same. This play being a troublesome one since it is very difficult to be analysed into any one and single category but for me at the end forcing Shylock to convert into Christianity reflects sad ending of the play thereby describing the same as a tragic play with no happy ending.


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