What parts stand out as comic parts in Shakespeare's Romantic tragicomedy The Merchant of Venice?  

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are two main comic interludes in The Merchant of Venice. One of these is the scene with Launcelot the clown and his father, Old Gobbo; the other is the masquerade of Portia and Nerissa as men and the tricks that they play upon their lovers.

In act II, scene 2, Launcelot debates with himself about whether or not he should run away from his master, Shylock. The wordplay and the vacillating self-debate are ludicrous and much like slap-stick comedy:

“Go,” the devil says. “Don’t go,” says my conscience. “Conscience,” I say, “you give good advice.” “Devil,” I say, “you give good advice.” If I listened to my conscience, I’d stay with the Jew my master, who’s a devil. But if I ran away from the Jew, I’d be following the advice of the devil, who’s the very devil himself. Certainly the Jew is the devil incarnate, and my conscience is giving me a hard time by telling me to stay with the Jew. The devil’s advice is nicer. I’ll run, devil. Tell me to run, and I’ll run. (2.2.6-11)

Later in the scene, Old Gobbo enters. Because he is nearly blind, he does not see his son well. Consequently, he asks his son if he knows Launcelot. Launcelot tries to convince his father of his identity, but Gobbo still does not recognize him. When Launcelot tells his father that Margery is his mother, old Gobbo begins to believe him. In his blindness, the father feels the back of Launcelot's head and thinks it is his son's beard:

Lord worshipped might he be, what a beard hast thou got! Thou hast got more hair on thy chin than Dobbin my fill-horse has on his tail. (2.2.23-25)

More comedy is in act V when Portia disguises herself as a man so that she can provide defense for Antonio. She defeats Shylock by telling him that the contract between him and the merchant does not allow for any blood to be shed when he takes the pound of flesh. Afterwards, Bassanio, who does not recognize Portia's disguise, praises the "young law clerk" for saving Antonio. He is then pressured by this supposed clerk into giving her his ring from Portia that he had promised her he would always keep. Likewise, Gratiano is also tricked by Nerissa, who disguises herself as the law clerk's assistant. He also relinquishes a ring given to him. Then, when the men return to their ladies, they find themselves in a humorous predicament. They realize their women have fooled them.

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The comedic plot of Shakespeare's tragicomedy The Merchant of Venice casts Antonio and Portia as the protagonists. Not much around Antonio is actually comedic, he is all in all a pretty serious guy. However Portia does gather together the elements of comedy at her villa estate on Belmont, presumably in the Adriatic Sea. An element of comedy are the scenes in which Portia and Nerissa exchange witticisms, particularly about Portia's suitors, and plot their intrigues. However the key figure in the comedic element of the play is Launcelot Gobbo.

Launcelot starts out as a lower class servant to Shylock and as such fills the Shakespearean role of Clown, a replacement for the Greek Chorus responsible for imparting additional information about principle characters, actions, and events. When Launcelot leaves Shylock's service and becomes the servant of Bassanio, who becomes the husband of Portia, Launcelot has a minor character shift and becomes a Shakespearean court Fool.

The difference between the Clown and the Fool is that the Clown is a lowly country dolt who usually doesn't know the wisdom of his own remarks, whereas a Fool is an urban fellow who chooses puns and character-directed witticisms intentionally. Scenes with Launcelot, e.g., with Old Gobbo, are key elements of the comedic plot.