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Antisemitism in Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice is a controversial play among experts of Shakespeare. This play has been argued by some to be a comedy. This is because there is a lot of comic relief and the story has a happy ending. Others consider the play to be a tragedy because of Shylocks character. He is very much like a character of a tragedy as in Phaedra. Still other experts use the term tragicomedy. Personally I think that the last definition is the best one to describe this play. There are several factors that contribute to the classification of a play as a tragedy or as a comedy.

A tragedy has four main elements according to current definitions. The first element is the tragic hero. In The Merchant of Venice Shylock is the only character that can be argued to be such a person. He is involved in most of the action and is the source of the major conflict. If he was not present the play would have no conflict and would not make a very good story. Shylock can also be considered the tragic hero because he has a tragic flaw. This is his obsession that is very evident throughout the play. His material wealth consumes his thoughts day and night.

He may be a Jewish man but I think that the god he worships the most is known as gold. One instance where it is apparent that he only cares about his possessions was when Jessica ran away. He was ranting, O, my ducats! O, my daughter! Fled with a Christian! O, my Christian ducats (2. 8. 15-16). He simply includ! ed his daughter in the middle as though she were one of his possessions. Another part of a tragedy is that the tragic hero must be humbled or humiliated. Shylock experienced both of these. He was humiliated when Portia, disguised as a man, used his own comments and contract against him.

Any person that was at first praising someone for being smart and virtuous must feel really dumb when that person is not really on their side like they seemed to be at first. We have not done much in class with what a comedy is but I think that I have a decent general knowledge of what one is. The first element that I know of is the comic relief. In The Merchant of Venice there is an abundance of such comic relief. One example was when Portia and Nerissa got the rings from their husbands to be while they were in Venice. After they obtained them they teased the two with threats and stories involving a lot of sexual humor.

A specific example of the sexual humor was when Gratiano said, Well, do you so. Let me not take him, then! For if I do, Ill mar the young clerks pen (5. 1. 236-237). The comic relief serves the purpose of relieving some of the immense tension that builds up in the play. Act five as a whole is a very good example because it is right after the climax of the play and has what seems to me to be the best comedy of the entire play. The second element of a comedy that I know of is that it must have a happy ending. This is most certainly what happens in our play.

Once Antonio was cleared of his bond everyone got what they wanted. Antonio made Shylock become Christian and Jessica and Lorenzo got a deed to Shylocks possessions when he died. Most importantly Bassanio and Portia and Jessica and Gratiano resolved the ring issues with good spirits and mutual understanding. From what I have said in the previous paragraphs I have to classify this play as a tragicomedy. The Merchant of Venice has all of the elements of comedy that I have mentioned. Throughout the play there is a tremendous amount of humor. It consists of both high comedy and a little bit of low comedy too.

One example of the low comedy would be at the beginning when Bassanio and Gratiano are in the pub with Antonio acting silly. They are only concerned with drinking beer and having fun. An example of the high comedy was when Portia was criticizing all of her suitors. She mocked each one of them with witty remarks. My favorite of these remarks was when she replied to Nerissa about liking the Duke of Saxonys nephew, Very vilely in the morning, when he is sober, and most vilely in the afternoon, when he is drunk (2. 1. 84-85). This gave us a little hint as to Portias wit and guile.

This play is also consistent with my statement that a comedy must have a happy ending. There! was a good-natured air about the characters in the final scene. They all resolved any problems that were present so that we would be left with a complete sense of closure. I have told you why I think that the play is partly a comedy and now to tell you about the tragic element. A tragedy has a tragic hero which in this case is Shylock. I do not feel that with a character as tragic as him in the play that we can ignore him. He was wronged so much in the play that it is hard to remember all of those offenses.

First of all he was always singled out and hated by everyone. Antonio spat on him and kicked him like a dog. Another example of his tragicness was when Jessica ran away from him. This upset him greatly because she ran away with a Christian. However, his main concern was all of the riches that she had stolen from him. He cared more about his possessions than he did about his daughter. A final way that Shylock was wronged was when Antonio was released from the bond. If Shylock was a good Christian man there would not have been a controversy. He probably would have been allowed to take the pound of flesh.

The final reason why this play could be considered a tragedy is because Shylock was humiliated. This is a necessary part of a tragic heros character. For all of the reasons that I have stated in the above paragraphs this play must be considered a tragicomedy. It does not fit a single set of criteria. Instead it has many comic elements and a little of the tragic elements. If Shylocks character was not so involved in the story I would classify the play as a comedy. Since he does have such a major role I find it impossible to ignore his tragic qualities.

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