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The Merchant of Venice, Controversial Play

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.

The Merchant of Venice is a great play and I enjoyed it very much. As we read through the play I started to notice something that was different about it. At first I was unable to “put my finger on it”. Then it started to become a little clearer. During our discussions I started to notice that other peoples interpretations of the play were different from mine. I listened to what the other people said and it made sense. Therefore I started to think that maybe I was at fault and had misinterpreted it. Then the next day it happened again. I began to wonder if I was doing something wrong.

That was when I really started to think that there was something unique about this play. I did not say anything in class about my thoughts because they seemed a little weird, even to me. After all, I had never heard of a play having two different ways of reading it. My suspicions went on for a couple of weeks and that was when I became extremely happy. Dr. Lipkind came into our class and t! alked to us about the play. He was in his usual character, arms flailing and voice booming, when he told us that this play could be read two completely different ways.

I could finally breathe a sigh of relief. It was really frustrating for me to doubt my own thoughts. For during the class discussions I was continually second guessing myself and I did not like this feeling. After Dr. Lipkind told us this fact he told us that many experts had different opinions about this. Some said that this double-sided story was pathetic and weak. They thought that this was simply a case of a writers indecision and lack of ability. Other experts thought that this double-sidedness was the plays greatest asset.

They disagreed as to how intelligent Shakespeare was and if he intended to do this on purpose or if it was simply an accident. I am inclined to agree with the experts that think Shakespeare was a brilliant writer in his time. He would even be considered one of the very best writers in history. Shakespeare has written countless poems and plays. Not all of them are a representation of his very best work but that does not matter. To be a great writer, at least in my mind, a person only has to produce two pieces of literature that are of a high caliber. Shakespeare did this. One of those great plays was Julius Caesar.

I read this play last year and enjoyed it very much. They way that he put the scenes together was awesome. Throughout the play he developed the plots and sub-plots while continuing to keep the play exciting and entertaining. He never let the audience get bored. There are several other plays that he wrote that were of a very high caliber. He also wrote poems. His Shakespearean sonnets are very interesting because they always used the same rhyme scheme. If this man had all this talent I do not think that any person would dispute his greatness and say that one of his plays was weak.

Furthermore, I do not think that anyone could say that such a great wr! iter simply wrote a double-sided play on accident. Shakespeare did intentionally write this play so that it could be read two ways. As I mentioned earlier I had interpreted many parts of this play differently than many of my classmates. One example of this was when Bassanio and his friends met Antonio in the first scene of the play. Most of the others in the class did not think very highly of them. They thought that they were clowns and almost mocked them. However, I thought that they were just having a good time.

I do not find anything wrong with a few guys getting drunk and having a good time, so long as they do not injure anybody in the process or drink while they are riding a horse or operating heavy machinery. Another example of how this play can be read two different ways involves Shylocks “merry bond”. During a class discussion with Dr. Lipkind I said that I thought Shylock was planning revenge from the very beginning. When presented with this point of view much of the class agreed with me. Dr. Lipkind told us to watch this situation develop and to see if I was right.

As it turns out I was right, and wrong. If the play was read one way Shylock would be a vicious person plotting Antonios demise from the beginning. The other way would be that Shylock did propose the bond in pure innocence and had no notion of revenge at that point. I now believe that I was a little premature in my assumption. I think that Shylock thought of revenge after Jessica had run away with a Christian. This added weight upon his shoulders made him snap. In act 3 scene 1 Shylock said, “Let him look to his bond” (44). At this point we can interpret the Information two ways.

Has Shylock been scheming towards Antonios death all along? Or is he just realizing that he has a great opportunity for revenge. I prefer to think that he has just realized his opportunity. If he were a modern person his thoughts would have sounded something like this, “Wow, I have been wronged by Antonio so much and my daughter just ran away with a Christian. I just thought of something. I have Antonio trapped with this bond that we mad in jest. But, a bond is a bond and it does not matter if he thought it was made in jest. I think I will take my revenge on him when he is unable to pay.

Wow, that is a great idea. ” The other interpretation would have sounded something like this, “Finally, I have Antonio where I want him. His ships will not come in and he will default. Surely the Duke will allow me my award. It is a bond and there is nothing that he can do! . I will finally take my long awaited revenge. ” A final example of something that can be read two different ways in this play was when Portia said that she loved Bassanio. She might have been sincere or she may have been very sarcastic and cynical. Everything in this play is open to the interpretation of the reader.

Shakespeare has “welded” the lines of this play together so well that it is extremely hard for a person to pick apart the two different stories. This was definitely no accident. He did it on purpose and it amazes me. It can not be a weakness. It is too wonderful, graceful, and intricate not to take heed. One must appreciate this for what it is, an absolutely stunning and mind boggling piece of work. #8 The Merchant of Venice has many characters. Some were very important while others were less important. None of the characters though were insignificant. Even the tiniest characters were vital.

The messengers might have only appeared a couple of times and said very few words but the messages that they delivered were essential to the play. The play would have been awkward without these people doing their individual and sometimes only job. Two of the minor characters in this play were Solanio and Salerio. We refer to them as S+S. A person that has not read this play may wonder why we can call two people by these two letters that are the same. They would say, “Which S is Solanio and which S is Salerio? ” To our class this would almost be funny, because we know better. It would not be that persons fault, they are just ignorant.

Those of us that have read and studied this play know that there is no need to distinguish between the two because they are only stock characters that are identical. They are one-dimensional, we never know anything about them, and they mainly tell us about the main characters. One example of their similarity lies in their names. Just look at them, they are very similar. Another thing is that they usually appear together. I can only recall one scene where on of them appeared and the other one did not.

This was in act three scene two when Salerio delivered a message to Bassanio from Antonio! earing grave news. These two characters also serve the same purpose in the play. They are like the chorus, they tell about the setting and the mood of the characters. This is vital information for the audience to have because it allows them to see what Shakespeare had in mind. If S+S did not help the audience view the play in a particular way the play may be a little confusing. S+S also develop the main characters and plot through dialog. This could be seen when S+S were talking to Shylock in act three scene one. During their conversation two things become clear.

One was that Shylock would indeed take a pound of flesh from Antonios body. The second was that the general public doubted that Shylock would do it. Remember, S+S represent the opinions and attitudes of the general public. The final purpose that these two minor characters serve is in the exposition. They are essential to this part of the play because they setup the entire act. When Antonio said, “In sooth, I know n! ot why I am so sad” (1. 1. 1) S+S told us why they thought that he was sad. This was when we learned about Antonios risky ventures in which all of his money was invested.

This setup the entire money borrowing situation with Shylock which in turn led to the central plot of the play. Another minor character in this play was the Duke of Venice. He can be classified as a minor character because of his little role. His presence was only felt in the courtroom and even at that he did not affect the play in a major way. As we know minor characters can serve the purpose of portraying the publics feelings and setup a scene for a major character. In the courtroom scene the Duke does both of these things. During the trial Shylock wanted justice, and he wanted it quickly.

He pressured the Duke to give him what he rightfully deserved but the Duke did something. He delayed his decision until he could hear from the good doctor Bellario. In this single decision he accomplished both of the tasks that I mentioned earlier in the paragraph. First, since he represents the publics emotions, it is safe to say that the people of Venice did not want Shylock to get his pound of flesh and wanted to delay as long as possible. They were all looking for some way to save Anton! io. Secondly, he set the scene so that a major character could come in and save the day.

This, of course, was Portia. When she got to town the Dukes character went back into obscurity. She took over the scene that had been well prepared for her The final minor character that I am going to talk about is Lancelot Gobbo. He is perhaps one of the most important minor characters in terms of foreshadowing. He decided that he was going to leave Shylocks home and told Jessica. When she heard this she did not hold it against him. She thought that he was doing the right thing. Lancelots actions got Jessica to say, “Our house is hell” (2. 3. 2).

This is foreshadowing that Jessica is going to leave the house also. I think that this foreshadowing is the best in this play and it creates a tremendous amount of tension and anticipation. I also think that Lancelot is the most comedic of the minor characters. His comedic scene in which he “played” with his father lightened the tension in the play just before they got back into the suspenseful things. Minor characters are essential to all plays. Some may argue that they do not serve much of a purpose but that would be an uninformed decision. It is obvious to me that all minor characters are important.

If they were not present a writer would have to devise some other way of communicating thoughts to the audience which could be awkward and lengthy. #13 The Merchant of Venice was written by William Shakespeare a very long time ago. Despite this fact he managed to use many literary devices in an excellent way. Back when he lived not many people were educated. Only the wealthy upper class was privileged enough to educate themselves. Shakespeare obviously had enough money to educate himself. However, I do doubt the quality of his education compared to that of today. Did they teach people back them as good as we do today?

If they did not it would only add to his greatness. It would mean that he was that much more brilliant. In the play he used many literary devices and used them better than many writers of today. Some of the devices were foreshadowing, comic relief, and motifs. There were many motifs, including bonds of all kinds, love and hate, alien versus citizen, and place motifs. One place motif in particular was that between Venice and Belmont. The Venice versus Belmont motif was a key to this play. It put an imaginary division between the two so as to make them have two distinct personas.

One way that the imaginary divider was put in place was in the physical separation of the two. They were not exactly close enough to commute to work everyday. The second way in which the two were separated was that Belmont was an island with a beautiful mountain on it. This isolated it so that the only way to get there was by a sea voyage. This required a lot of planning and money. From this separation we also lose one of Aristotles unities. He argued that a tragedy must take place in one location. If there had been unity of place Portia would have lived just around the corner and been easily accessible.

This contributes to one of my previous questions for why I do not think that this play is a tragedy. One way that the two cities are different is in their reality. Venice is a very realistic place. The people living and working in the town have real problems. Such as debt to Shylock who will take everything that they own if they fail to make their payments. This can be seen in our modern world. Many people borrow money from a bank but miss their payments and have their assets seized. This happened to one of my neighbors. While Venice has this reality to it Belmont is a city that one would see in a fairytale.

Everything is happy and nobody has any real problems. Sure Portia did not like the method in which her husband was going to be picked but that may not have mattered. Depending on how you read the play, Portia may have “rigged” the process by telling Bassanio which casket to pick. Another difference in the Belmont versus Venice motif has to do with money. In Venice money was continually topic of conversation. They were worried about it, borrowing it, lending it, or touching it. Shylock was a character in Venice that dealt directly with money. He did not just have others touch his money for him.

He actually touched it and paid for the things that he bought by himself. Whereas in Belmont none of the characters had anything to do with money. It was never a concern to them. It was just magically there. They also never physically touched the money. The had it and were rich but they did not go and reach into their chest to grab a handful of gold. The debts were simply taken care of, by someone else. Another difference between the two cities was what the people were like. In describing the people of Venice one would discover that they are very much like us.

They are not infallible, and have normal problems. Belmont is not so. They are god-like. I say this because there is not one thing that they can not do. Whatever they set out to do is accomplished with ease, no matter how big the task is. An example of this was when Portia and Nerissa disguised themselves as men and masqueraded as a lawyer and his clerk. I pose a question. Could two woman really go undetected as men? I think not. Another thing is that they accomplished what they had wanted to do with so much ease. They just showed up with some law that happened to save Antonio and doom Shylock.

Why would the judge not know about this law? This is simply because Portia is like a god. She can seemingly “pull a rabbit out of her hat” whenever it is convenient. More evidence that Belmont is god-like is that in the en! d of the play the characters are talking about the Greek gods. This is just a little hint as to what Shakespeare intended. I think that this motif was very interesting. I did not notice it very much until we were asked about it. Then I “saw the light”. I saw what Shakespeare had done. This also made me understand why Portia was able to save the day.

I had found it a little hard to believe that she was such a great lawyer with no training. I also wondered where that mysterious law had come from. #14 In The Merchant of Venice one is able to see many different motifs. These motifs are literary devices that Shakespeare used intentionally. They make the play deeper and provide a sort of continuity. This makes the play flow from one scene to another with little difficulty and one does not really notice the breaks between scenes. The motifs also recur throughout the play which gives the reader a sense of knowing what will happen.

It could be argued that Shakespeare used the motifs in a way that can be considered as foreshadowing. This is possible because a reader knows what happened in the situation of one motif and therefore if that motif is seen again they will have a sense of the outcome. One motif in this play that is always present is the bond motif. There are many different kinds of bonds in this play. They may be different on the surface, but they are actually very similar. One Bond in this play is that between Shylock and Antonio. This money bond is the most visible bond in the entire play.

Antonio was forced into this bond by his friendship. His friendship to Bassanio could be argued to be his flaw. After all, it is what got him in trouble in the first place and caused him to accept death at Shylocks hand. This bond was weird from the very first moment that Shylock and Antonio began to discuss it. At first Shylock was very angry at Antonio. He gave him a big lecture about how he had been mistreated and then started to think about how much interest he should get. After a little deliberation he decided that he would lend the money, not for interest, but rather for a pound of flesh.

Antonio thought that this was a silly thing and signed the bond despite Bassanios objections. A little side note about this bond is that it appeared to be just a joke but in reality it turned out to be a potentially lethal situation. Another motif in the play that I alluded to in the previous paragraph is the motif of friendship. The friendship between Bassanio and Antonio was absolute. No one could break it. This absoluteness appeared many times throughout the play. It was the main motivating factor in Antonios decision to enter into the money bond with Shylock.

Another time that it surfaced was when a messenger gave a letter to Bassanio from Antonio. In this letter Antonio said that he forgave Bassanio and erased all of his debts to him. Then it also came to light that Antonio did not care if he died, as long as Bassanio was there to see him pay his debt. A third bond motif in this play is the one of marriage. This is seen between Bassanio and Portia and Gratiano and Nerissa. Both sets of people are planning to get married but their plans are put on hold when Antonios letter calls the men away. Before they left though, their future wives gave them each a ring to keep with them forever.

The rings were the only real bond between the two couples because they were not yet married when the men left for Antonios trial. These rings provided the kind of bond that their marriages would have given and gave Shakespeare a great opportunity to add some more comedy later on in the play. The final bond motif that I would like to discuss is the bond between Portia and her father and Jessica and Shylock. These are both father to daughter bonds, although Portias father is dead. In both of the bonds the daughters try to abide by what their fathers wanted them to do.

Portia tried to abide by her fathers casket idea and Jessica tried to obey Shylocks wishes. However, in both of these bonds the daughters ended up betraying their fathers wishes. Jessica obviously did this when she ran away with a Christian, Lorenzo. In Portias case it was a little less obvious and could be interpreted many ways. I think that she did betray her father in the casket choosing business. One reason is because she would have put a bottle of wine on one of the caskets to make one of her suitors pick the wrong casket. The second reason is that I think she helped Bassanio pick the correct casket.

When she had music played during his selection process it seemed to have a hidden mess! age. It told him that the caskets were not what they appeared to be and that he should not judge them by their external appearance. This was clearly an attempt to pick her own husband and I think that she tried to fool herself into thinking that she had fulfilled her fathers wishes. All of these bond motifs appear to be different. However, if you look deeper into the situations it is possible to see a common trend. In each case the bonds are broken in some sense.

The rings were given away, the pound of flesh was not taken, and Antonio did not want Bassanios help in the court room. This fact was not visible to me until I had read the entire play but I am now glad that I have looked deeper into these bonds. #19 In The Merchant of Venice there are many speeches from which great quotes can be taken. Many of these quotes bear an uncanny resemblance to reality. It is amazing that the lines of a play that was written so long ago could be so profound and applicable to modern day life.

The quote for my question is, “All that glisters is not gold; often have you heard that told. . . In the final packet the word “that” was “it”. I found this error when I looked through the play and found the quote. Fortunately this did not take me a long time because I knew the approximate spot that it had been stated. This quote has central importance to the entire play. It most directly applies to the caskets but it also includes other things. This quote has central importance to the play for many reasons. My first reason is because it is in the midst of one of the major conflicts in the play. The Prince of Morocco read this quote from the scroll inside the gold casket that he had chosen, which was incorrect.

The caskets are really the cause of the whole play because they started the chain of events leading to the bond. If Bassanio had not needed the money to court Portia the bond would have never been made. The quote also holds great importance because it alludes to a theme in the play. This is that things are not necessarily what they appear to be. “All that glisters is not gold” tells the reader that gold is not the only thing that matters or that it is the most desirable. It may seem to be the best choice on the outside, but on the inside it contains a persons doom.

The second part of the quote is, “often have your heard that told” holds deep meaning also. It can tell the audience that in their culture m! ost people did choose the thing that was desirable on the surface. This allows one to believe that the Prince would have chosen the wrong one and honestly thought that his reasoning was sound. This also applies to the Prince of Aragon that picked the silver casket thinking that he deserved Portia. Another part of the play that this quote applies to is in the reality versus appearance motif other than that of the caskets.

One example is about the bond between Shylock and Antonio. The quote could be seen as meaning that money is not the only thing that matters, though often it seems that it is the only thing that matters. This could easily describe Shylock and make a reader interpret the story in a certain way. It would make one think that Shylock knows that money is not the only thing that matters and that he is willing to sacrifice it for revenge. Another example of how the quote applies to the reality versus appearance motif is in the case of Jessica and Shylock.

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