The Merchant of Venice as a tragicomedy

Question: Discuss “The Merchant of Venice” as a fine example of comedy or tragicomedy. The Merchant of Venice as a tragicomedy.


Tragicomedy is a dramatic work incorporating both tragic and comic elements coined by the Roman dramatist Plautus in the 2nd century BC. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is a king as the writer of tragicomedy. His comedy is one that has a happy ending, usually involving marriages between the unmarried characters or settling down the confusion. A tragicomedy demands several criteria which are available in the famous play “The Merchant of Venice”.

Themes tragicomedy

The dominant theme of Shakespeare’s tragicomedies is love. Besides, they have several thematic elements and almost always end with a marriage or reunion. The ending of the play “The Merchant of Venice” traces the happy closure. Portia’s last dialogue expresses it.

It is almost morning,

And yet I am sure you are not satisfied

Of these events at full. Let us go in;

And charge us there upon inter’gatories,

And we will answer all things faithfully.

Standard plot

Shakespearean tragicomedies are based on the standard plot. “The Merchant of Venice” is no exception. In this tragicomedy, the standard plot creates suspense for the audience. It develops the plot from the threat to fun with a conspicuous message. The developing threat of death to Antonio is suddenly reversed at the end by Portia’s ingenious arguments in the trial scene. The trial scene carries the message that justice never betrays although somewhat delay may happen in the way of justice.

Intermingled Characters

Unlike tragedy, tragicomedy intermingles people of the aristocracy with lower-class characters such as the Jewish Merchant Shylock and the clown Launcelot Gobbo. Besides, there are some recurring characters in the comedies like the drunk, the fool, the clever servant, and young lovers. They are often funny characters to offer enough extent for the audiences to laugh. Gratiano is a such type of character.

Trickery and comic language

A tragicomedy is engulfed with trickeries and comic languages. Shylock’s trick to avenge Antonio is a token of abominable mentality. Portia’s deceased father has left casket riddles so that his daughter could get a perfect husband who will love, respect, and evaluate her from the core of the heart. By trickery, Shakespeare has applied his proverb that is:

“All that glitters is not gold”

However, from the outset of the play to the end, comic language and trickery entertain the audiences very much. But by the end, Portia’s trick and coming language to return the ring to Bassanio is heart-touching.

I had it of him: pardon me, Bassanio;

For, by this ring, the doctor lay with me.

Structure of tragicomedy

The structure of Shakespeare’s tragicomedies is unique since it is engulfed with humor and tragedy. They provide a harmonious blend of the two. Even the same character shows great interchange of tragic and comic strands. In a very artistic way, comedy is used to bring relief from the sorrow or pain and create a level of resolution and reconciliation along. To put it differently, humor is used to assure that human life is not always delighted or despaired but often it is both. Such structure is well-matched with “The Merchant of Venice”. Thus, it is a fine example of tragicomedy.

Tools and Devices

The tragicomedies of William Shakespeare contain a wealth of imagination and poetry but also a touch of realism. Verbal antagonism and verbal humor are appreciated in the same. Portia is the mouthpiece of Shakespeare for his tools and devices.

Therefore prepare thee to cut off the flesh.

Shed thou no blood, nor cut thou less nor more

……, if the scale do turn

But in the estimation of a hair,

Thou diest and all thy goods are confiscated.

The use of allusions, metaphors, insults, and puns is also profuse in Shakespearean comedies. Vocal and instrumental music is used to illuminate and foreshadow the characters and also to provide momentum and entertainment to the plot. “The Merchant of Venice” is therefore Shakespeare’s masterpiece of new inventive writing.


Now, therefore, it has to be said that “The Merchant of Venice” is a conspicuous paradigm of tragicomedy from top to bottom. Besides, it paves the way for enrichment for comedy in English literature admixed with tragic and comic effects.

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SR Sarker
SR Sarker
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