Research the key features and conventions of the subgenre of Comedy (stage drama) and write an extended response on how an understanding of the expectations of genre and form affect your reading(s) of The Merchant of Venice.
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The first element of understanding Shakespeare’s comedies and tragedies is the block to young love. If the block is overcome, then it is a comedy; if not, then it is a tragedy. In The Merchant of Venice, Bassanio and Portia’s love is blocked by her dead father’s will, but they finally get married. Bassanio has to solve the riddle of caskets to marry Portia, and he does. The block is overcome, so the play is a comedy.
Another love story is the love of Lorenzo and Jessica, where, again, her father is the block to love. He does not let his daughter marry a Christian. They also manage to overcome the block, even though they make sacrifices to do so. They run away and manage to be together by the end of the play.
The friends to lovers tool is another tool for analyzing comedy: is there a shift from sisterly/brotherly bonds to a heterosexual marriage resolution? Portia is as close as a sister to her waiting-woman, Nerissa, but when they choose to marry, they give up the sisterly bond for a male husband.
Another example is Antonio, Bassanio’s friend, who feels sad and lonely after Bassanio and Portia get married. Bassanio borrows money from Antonio, which he originally got from Shylock, Jessica’s father. Antonio’s great sadness is one of the mysteries of the play. He sees Bassanio as a son, a friend, a boon companion, and perhaps, a lover.
Comedies have an escape from the harsh world of human law and justice, called the green world. Venice is undoubtedly the place of law, while Portia’s home of Belmont is the exact opposite, with beauty, repose, music, and nature. Law is ignored or overcome there, like the law of father’s will. Here is where love grows.
The cross-dressing dynamic is a strictly comedy-centered tool. It does not occur in tragedies, and all comedies have used it. In The Merchant of Venice, Portia tries to save Antonio’s life by dressing as a judge while Nerissa is dressed as her clerk.
They successfully fool everyone and outsmart all the male legal authorities in the play, even the Duke of Venice. This means that Shakespeare is placing a woman’s reasoning and argumentation abilities higher than men, which is strictly in contrast to the belief of his time. It is an element of comedy here, especially when the two women reveal their disguises to their husbands, who were totally fooled by the costumes.
Another example is when Shylock’s daughter dresses as a boy to run away with Lorenzo, the Christian lover. This shows how she falls into the corruption and materialism of what Shylock scornfully calls “the Christian husbands”.
This is a transcript from the video series How to Read and Understand Shakespeare. Wondrium is a paid subscription.
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A sample bibliography for 3 resources suggested on this page would look like:
CONNOR, M 2017, ‘The? Merchant? of? Nowhere’, Quadrant Magazine, vol. 61, no. 10, pp. 86–89, viewed 24 May 2022, <https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=apr&AN=125512924&lang=en-ca&site=pov-aus>.
English literature 2022. Britannica School. Retrieved 24 May 2022, from https://school.eb.com.au/levels/high/article/English-literature/106051#12825.toc
The Merchant of Venice 2022. Britannica School. Retrieved 24 May 2022, from https://school.eb.com.au/levels/high/article/The-Merchant-of-Venice/195