Unresolved Issues in The Merchant of Venice

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For much of the play, The Merchant of Venice appears to be vintage Shakespearean farce. A group of buffoons vie to marry the beautiful and wealthy Portia; women dress up as men and fool their betrothed; servants are willing accomplices in playful deceits. Where Merchant of Venice departs from the pattern of a typical Shakespearean farce is with the appearance of Shylock, the Jew. Shylock transforms this play from a simple comedy to a work of enormous complexity. In The Merchant of Venice, the contrast between the tragedy of Shylock and the comedy of the other characters raises many issues that are left unresolved for the thoughtful reader.

As the action begins Antonio,
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Shylock is thus a completely broken man - without "the means whereby I live," destroyed by Portia's clever and ingenious methods of legal gymnastics. This is hardly the fare of romantic comedy. Indeed, the plight of Shylock is tragic by anyone's account. His controlled rage at the beginning of the play, fueled by a life of discrimination and isolation, gives way to a quest for revenge. Indeed, the Jew appears as a complex character, molded by the lot life has given him, full of wrath born of mistreatment, spreading hate which spills from him without control. It is not difficult to understand how treatment by oppressors can beget anti-social, hateful behaviors. It is the stuff of many modern-day sociological studies of the ghettos.

What is difficult is to switch from this distressing and thought-provoking study of what can happen to human nature and what man can do to man, to the light-hearted scene sympathetically depicting the persecutors in their charmed lives. Their very playfulness trivializes Shylock's fate. The three couples are reunited, and after a teasing battle based on the playful subterfuge of Portia and Nerissa, they proceed with their lives of pleasurable leisure. The scene is disquieting and, though not Shakespeare's intent, rattles the

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