The Merchant of Venice

Comedy or tragedy?

Shakespeare always treads a fine line between comedy and tragedy. His tragedies all have moments of comic relief, where the characters are able to find humour in their predicament, and his comedies often deal with the darker elements of love, loss and relationships.

The Merchant of Venice is listed as a comedy in Shakespeare’s canon and it has all the traditional features of a Shakespearean comedy – love, intrigue, disguise, no deaths, and a wedding at the end. However, the audience’s reception towards this play has changed a great deal over the years, and directors have also chosen to present the play in different ways, and even sometimes change the ending.

Answer the following question:

Do you think the production of The Merchant of Venice you saw was presented as a comedy or a tragedy?

Use these points as a guide:

  • How did the play end? Was the ending positive for all of the characters?
  • Do you think the characters deserved their ending?
  • What sort of atmosphere did the director create - was it comical, somber, serious, or something else entirely?
  • What parts of the play interested you the most, the comic or the tragic elements?
  • Did you empathise with any characters? If so, which ones and why? If not, why not? Were you outraged in any way by the way they are treated or positioned in society?
  • Was there a particularly comic or tragic moment that you think changed your mind as to whether the play was a comedy or tragedy?
  • How did you feel when you left the theatre? What were the questions that the play left you with? Were you entertained, outraged, inspired?

Present your ideas in a written essay, or debate in a class discussion.

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