A CRITICAL STUDY OF SHAKESPEAREAN TRAGICOMEDY

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Although at the end of the play, Antonio’s wealth is safe, Bassanio and Gratiano wed Portia and Nerissa respectively, it is not safe haven for some other characters. Antonio is melancholic in a weary – world of Venice, appearing to suffer from imbalance of homours. Material wealth no longer brings joy to him, and his closest friend has been taken away forever by Portia. Shylock is left an outcast of society. Lester (1999: 258) remarks that:

Shylock lost his daughter, his riches, and his dignity; the ring trick has demonstrated how little Portia may trust the flighty Bassanio; the Christians of Venice have employed tactics that bears no trace of “the quality of mercy” to punish Shylock; Antonio the merchant whose overwhelming melancholy frames the play, remains an isolated figure, wealthy but quite alone.

Themes

The Merchant of Venice is a typical example of a play with quite a plethora of exciting themes. It examines problems that are universal and ageless in appeal. As we have noted, the play is a comment on racial prejudice. It alerts us on the danger of erroneous human relationships based on religion and where one comes from. It shows how unjustly we relate to people on the basis of race and the disgrace we have to bear on account of our faith. In fact, Shakespeare portrays racial and religious discrimination as malignant diseases and something extremely hurting. The theme of appearance and reality is highlighted in the riddle of the caskets, where we are told eloquently that all that glitters is not gold.

The theme of greed and lust for money is typified by Shylock’s disposition towards business. He is portrayed as a true Machiavellian who eschews sentiment in business. We also have other themes such as betrayal, deception, hypocrisy, unconditional love, revenge, mercy, vendetta, forgiveness, etc. The various issues which the play raises are still affecting human relationships and will continue to do so. The play portrays man as vile, desperate, and selfish, but it equally shows his capacity to love.

The World of the Play

The play presents the picture of two contrasting worlds – Venice and Belmont. Venice is portrayed as a passionate world of merchandise and capitalism. It is a world full of exploitation, hazards and all manner of scheming. It is a place of Machiavellian indulgence and waste. Bassanio begins the play in Venice as “a spendthrift, in a state of sexual and emotional confusion” (Lester, 1999). Venice is a weary world where wealth no longer guarantees joy. The character, Antonio, exemplifies this.

The second world is Belmont, a paradise-like city. In an interview with Gideon Lester, Andrei Serban states that “Belmont functions as a kind of Arcadia, a place of escape, from the world of Shylock, from the scheming of the material mind”. He maintains that Bassanio “journeys to Belmont in part because he is attracted to Portia’s wealth but also because he longs for something higher, something that enables him to speak such extra ordinary poetry as he faces the caskets”.

However, when Bassanio gives out Portia’s ring, we find him being betrayed by his Venetian spirit. Serban tells us that “only when he finally leaves Venice and his old life can” Portia “forgive him and offers him a second chance”. He believes that “the play’s fifth act is, according to this interpretation, wonderfully hopeful, because Bassanio really has a chance “to start all over”. He submits that “salvation is always possible provided that we are able to find our own Arcadia”.

CONCLUSION

Tragicomedy is a drama that reflects life in its ambivalent formation. It is a drama of mixed feelings which approaches existence both as pathetic and comic, and this is the reason it draws vacillating response of tear and laughter from the audience simultaneously. It is full of surprises, paradoxes, and contradictions, and this exactly makes it a fascinating genre of drama.

This article examines the concept of tragicomedy, the characteristics of Shakespeare’s tragicomedy. It analyses The Merchant of Venice pointing out the nature of controversy it has been generating, some of the themes of the play, as well as the type of worlds reflected in the play.

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