The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

Start Your Free Trial

Explain The Merchant Of Venice as a tragic comedy play.

Expert Answers info

Eleanora Howe eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2016

write653 answers

starTop subjects are Literature and History

Traditionally, a comedy is loosely referred to a narrative with a happy ending (that's why Dante's Divine Comedy, though it has plenty of unhappy moments in the Inferno portion, is called a comedy in the first place). Conversely, a tragedy has an unhappy ending, and usually involves the downfall of the main character.

Let's look at The Merchant of Venice in this context. In many ways, the play has a happy ending: Bassanio ends up with Portia, and Antonio not only escapes his gruesome fate, but also finds out that he is, in fact, still rich. By all accounts, that's a classic comedic ending: guy gets the girl, nobody is poor, and everyone's having a good time. However, the play subtly disrupts this comedic ending through its treatment of Shylock; though he is ostensibly the "villain" of the play, the reader/audience tends to sympathize with Shylock, as he faces significant persecution through the story, simply because he is Jewish. As such, his downfall is not positive at all, but instead takes on tragic proportions (he doesn't even appear on-stage during the final act). The play's comedic ending is subverted by the tragic downfall of Shylock, and this is one of the main reasons why The Merchant of Venice continues to be read and studied.  

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

gbeatty eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2007

write2,654 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Science

Start with the meaning of the words. To be tragic is to be extremely sad (a bit different from a formal tragedy); to be a comedy in the Shakespearean sense, humor helps but what's necessary is for things to turn out well for the main characters, and, especially, for tensions to be successfully resolved and for lovers to get together.

Well, this is sad because of the frustration and harsh treatment of Shylock, but it is a comedy because Antonio does not lose the pound of flesh he agreed to, and because the lovers marry at the play's end.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

khushalee | Student

                  tragedy is tragedy. the merchant of venice is tragedy. because the real merchant of venice,"antonio",is sad from beginning to end. he has no problems in life and he has enough wealth to spend his life in luxurious way. he also helps the people and he hates shylock in public.

         even in trial scene, when he is in trouble, everyone wants his freedom .the duke also requests shylock for mercy. but antonio does not speak a single word in his defence. either he has no interest to live life or he has faith in god.

           here, shakespeare creates tragedy in antonio's character.  shakespeare writes the play as art for art's sake.

          in this play, shakespeare takes us in happy mood at last.

in trial scene, antonio wins in the court of justice. and portia, in disguise, creates fun for bassanio. according to these scenes, this play is considered as a comedy.

          shakespeare gives us a message "how to balance different kinds of situations of life." so, this play is both a tragedy and a comedy.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial