Merchant of Venice- Romantic Comedy or not?
A romantic comedy is a play that integrates romantic elements as well as humour. In Shakespeare’s romantic comedies, the protagonists live happily ever after, and more often than not, the play ends with the tolling of wedding bells, with more than one couple getting married to create a joyful atmosphere. Love always seems to triumph over adversity in his romantic comedies. Besides, evil is also brought to light, exhibiting enlightenment and reformation. The genre of romantic comedy depicts societies that cannot accommodate the independent woman, often indicated by the hiding of her true identity in order to be able to function in society. Cross-dressing is often used to achieve this purpose and in addition provide comic relief.
Yes. It is a romantic comedy.
1. The Merchant of Venice is often categorized as a romantic comedy. To some extent, the play does qualify as one. Firstly, of the three plot lines that run through the play, two are related to love and marriage- the relationships of Bassanio and Portia, as well as that of Jessica and Lorenzo. The play depicts the stories of these two couples, integrating the theme of romance, at the same time showing how they overcame obstacles to be together.
2. Secondly, in the final stretch of the play, Graziano and Nerissa, and Lorenzo and Jessica, get married. Bassanio and Portia have already been married in the earlier scenes, and all live happily ever after. The play ends happily with the union of the lovers, the return of Antonio’s ships and evil being brought to light, as we can see in Shylock’s conversion to Christianity.
3. Thirdly, cross-dressing is also featured in Merchant of Venice, as we can see in how the three females, Portia, Nerissa and Jessica dressed up as men. Portia and Nerissa were able to prove their capabilities as females, and Jessica was able to reunite with her lover this way. At the same time, the cross-dressing of Portia and Nerissa provides comic relief as we can see in the rings plot. These are all conventions of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies, therefore, the Merchant of Venice can, to a certain extent be considered as a romantic comedy.
No. It is not a romantic comedy.
4. However, there are also certain features in Merchant of Venice which do not correspond with the characteristics of a romantic comedy. The main themes of a romantic comedy are supposed to be bright and related to goodness (e.g. love), but in Merchant of Venice, the main themes also include evil, hatred, vengeance and discrimination. Firstly, the hatred between Antonio and Shylock can be witnessed in Act 1 Scene 3, where the former calls the latter names like a “cut-throat dog”. There is a furious exchange of insults, and this soon develops into a full-blown argument. The theme of hatred is displayed here, bringing forth an ominous atmosphere.
5. Discrimination is also a main theme in Merchant of Venice. Jews are a clear target of discrimination, as we can see in the case of Shylock being discriminated by Antonio, with the latter “spitting on my (his) Jewish gabardine”. Besides, racial prejudice is also shown, with the Prince of Morocco as an example. Although Portia does not say any colour-sensitive remarks to him and claims that all suitors possess a fair chance of wooing her, deep down she still deems him unsuitable and inferior because of his racial origins, hoping that none of his colour would choose the correct casket.
6. Deception and betrayal are also involved in the play, with Antonio as an example. He is perceived in public as an upright and respectable character, a gentleman, but in fact he has some dark qualities, like the discrimination and maltreatment of the Jews. This can be inferred from the fact that he spits at, insults and kicks Shylock whenever he sees him. Besides, Jessica can also be used as an example to illustrate the theme of deception and betrayal. She dresses up as a male in order to elope with her Christian lover. One could see this as a pursuit of her happiness, but more striking is not only the physical disguise that she wore, but the fact that she betrayed her religion and father. It would be deemed an ungrateful act no matter how ashamed she was of the fact that she was a Jew.
7. More impactful though, is the callousness and vengeance harboured by Shylock. Three thousand ducats are borrowed from him, with a pound of flesh from Antonio as the penalty if the money is not returned. Later in the play, Antonio receives news that his ships have been lost, stripping him of this financial ability to repay the debt. Shylock refuses to spare his life, and insists on having the “pound of flesh”. In Act 4 Scene 1, the court scene, Shylock asserts that he will still harvest Antonio’s flesh, even though the former was offered two times the sum of money, six thousand ducats. In this scene, Shylock’s thirst and desire for revenge are obvious, as well as his hatred for Antonio. His heartlessness and unwillingness to be merciful strikes us as evil acts. These are not very palatable, especially in a play categorized as a romantic comedy. This could very well lead to a tragic ending of Antonio being killed, if not for the wit of Portia.
Deception, discrimination, evil, vengeance, betrayal and hatred are all shown in this play. This is a stark contrast to the “pleasant” atmosphere that a romantic comedy is supposed to create. In some situations even, a tragedy could result. Therefore, the Merchant of Venice is a romantic comedy only to a certain extent, at least one that makes us think about deeper themes and issues.