The life of shakespeare

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Comedy is a potential site for social disruption and a medium for a message of dissent. Discuss whether this is true of ‘The Merchant of Venice’. ‘Comedy’ can be interpreted in many ways. One interpretation could be simply described as a dramatic performance which pits two societies against each other in an amusing agon or conflict. To define comedy as a basis for societal disruption is to consider the way in which comedy could lead to disorder. ‘The Merchant of Venice’ looks at such ideas, the conflicts between the old and the new, Being a comedic play, ‘The Merchant of Venice’ ends in familiar format that many Elizabethan plays followed, that of multiple marriages, a positive resolution and a tone and style that is more light-hearted than Shakespeare’s tragedies. The play’s initial reception was met with appeal as the presentation of Shylock was met with critical acclaim; he was a Jewish Usurer in a time period where Jews were racially abused. To a Jacobean audience, such a fate for Shylock would have been seen as the norm, especially considering that Elizabethan society than was described as being “Judeophobic”. Potentially, Shakespeare may’ve been using comedy as potential site for social disruption, the idea of protest through Shylock’s eloquence or the battle between justice and mercy, using the comic as a medium for the message of dissent - a medium that is simultaneously monitored and controlled by the authorities that it seeks to subvert. In this essay I will explore whether the play was in fact a comedic site for social disruption and a medium for a message of dissent. The drama of The Merchant of Venice is a legendary comedy, whose main action is so nearly tragical that the play barely escapes becoming a tragedy. It may be further classified as external, since its conflict lies in the realm of reality and is developed by natural rather than supernatural means. Its time relation falls in the palmy days of Venetian greatness, before the enterprise of Da Gama had made the front door of Europe to open on the Atlantic Ocean, leaving the Mediterranean seaports to be only unimportant side-entrances. From busy Venice the scene shifts to Belmont, whose name in literal derivation, beautiful mountain is strikingly suggestive. One of the ways in which Shakespeare lends comedy to the Merchant of Venice is through his explicit contrast of old and new testament values, specifically the dichotomy of justice – a concept explored in depth through the old testament – and mercy, a profoundly new testament teaching. Shakespeare reinforces the importance of justice to Venetian society through the language of Antonio (Act 3.3) “The Duke cannot deny the course of law…” Mercy, or the imposition of basic principles of fairness upon the strict letter of the law, lies at the heart of equity. Portia’s famous speech on the qualities of mercy attributes this capacity in mankind to a higher, divinely inspired form of law (Act 4.1.182) “The quality of mercy is not strain’d, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.” Law and order are best attributed to the conflicts within the play. It is comedy that enables Shakespeare to exploit this contrast and slowly break down that idea of law into separate parts, supporting the notion that comedy is a site for social disruption. In ‘The Merchant of Venice’ dissent is first shown when the Jew is first oppressed. He makes eloquent arguments that dismiss the claims of the heretics, “If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility, revenge! If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example, why revenge!” Here Shylock acts against the wrong of societies prejudices. He himself is being used as a construct for dissent. Shylock has been made the hard, savage, relentless creature we see him by long and cruel oppression (which could only be touched upon through Shakespearian comedy). It is through his constant cry for justice that contrasts with the beauty of...
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