What type of play is "The Merchant of Venice"?

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In William Shakespeare's era, plays were generally classified as comedy, tragedy, or history. Although the tragedies were not structured exactly like their classical antecedents, they share common elements including a large number of deaths, including that of the hero, and a sad ending for many. The histories concern real figures, often England's kings.

The comedies generally have lighter themes and characters rarely die. They usually have a central love story, or stories, ending in marriage(s). As Shakespeare aged and gained in playwriting experience, his comedies became more serious. With its substantive themes of religious tolerance, mercy and cruelty, and women's subordination to the patriarchy, Merchant of Venice presages the serious turn of the Bard's comedies. While matches are made and young lovers correctly paired off, marriage comes at a cost, especially for Jessica's relationship with her father.

A few years later, with even more somber themes, comedies such as The Tempest and The Winter's Tale today are often called "romances."

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Good question, and one which I think the play itself is quite interested in.

 Heminges and Condell, when they put together the First Folio, classed it as a "comedy" (see the link below), though in the modern theatre, it's usually played as something more akin to a tragedy. Though no-one dies, and the play ends with the reinforcement of marriages (what Shakespeare scholars the last few years ago have defined as necessary for a "comedy") - Shylock's unusually dark ending (rather like Malvolio's in "Twelfth Night") seems far more akin to tragedy.

What it's usually called today is a "problem play". All that means is that we just don't know, and that both the generic labels of tragedy and comedy are difficult to definitively apply to the play. It has elements of both: it's more complex, larger than the genres.

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