The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare

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What is The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare?

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Though William Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice is technically a comedy, as the play ends in marriage and light-hearted banter does take place, many scholars consider it a "problem comedy" or a "tragicomedy" because the play contains many difficult and dark topics and characters that seem better suited to a tragedy.

The problem with calling The Merchant of Venice a true comedy relates to the fact that a fair amount of controversy exists around the play despite the presence of comedic elements such as witty conversation and mistaken identities. The play contains darkly anti-Semitic attitudes as well as elements of tragedy, particularly in the downfall of the character of Shylock.

Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice can easily be called a literary classic, or even a masterpiece of English literature. Though Shakespeare wrote the play centuries ago, its themes of love (heterosexual and same-sex), hatred (racially and religiously motivated and otherwise), and family still resonate with today's audiences, which attests to the uniquely universal qualities that set Shakespeare's works apart from that of other playwrights.

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The Merchant of Venice is a play by William Shakespeare, written sometime between 1596 and 1598. It is about a Venetian nobleman Bassanio who has fallen on financial difficulties, and his quest to gain the hand of Portia, a rich noblewoman, in order to save his financial situation. The play follows Bassanio's experiences as he tries to gain the money he needs through a loan from the moneylender Shylock and the many ordeals that occur during his quest to marry Portia. The play has mistaken identities and disguises, religious commentary, and commentary on money and social status.

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What is The Merchant of Venice about?

Shakespeare utilizes a myriad of themes within The Merchant of Venice. First among those themes is the antisemitism demonstrated when Shylock is judged by his ethnicity rather than his business practices. He is a successful businessman who is mistrusted merely because he is a Jew. Shakespeare demonstrates the prejudice and class structure present in English society in the 16th and early 17th century that still remains in many countries today. An additional theme that is prevalent is a question of honor as is shown with the lottery of chests. The suitors are tested for honor to find if they are pursuing the maiden for the dowry or her. That was a brave stand for Shakespeare in a culture where arranged marriages were the order of the day. Many of Shakespeare's plays deal with unhappy or ill-conceived marriages and this was no exception.

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