When analyzing William Shakespeare’s plays, critics often crave categorizing each play into a specific genre. Many of Shakespeare’s plays fit into a genre, but some, such as The Merchant of Venice, fail to conform to one genre. One of Shakespeare’s early plays that is a festive comedy is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is a great parallel to The Merchant of Venice because both revolve around romantic relationships but each leaves the reader with different feelings at the end.
The play staring Shylock the Jew carries dark undertones that eliminate it from being a festive comedy, but it also lack the tragic nature of a traditional tragedy, leaving is as a problem play or tragicomedy. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a fun adventure for the reader, but because of the darkness present in the play, The Merchant of Venice leaves the reader with conflicted feelings. First, it is important to define what a problem play, tragicomedy, and festive comedy is. A problem play is the category for a play that does not conform to one genre, which is typically considered a problem by critics, hence the name “problem play. A tragicomedy is a play that is stuck between two genres: a tragedy and a comedy. If the play is considered a tragedy, it is a happy tragedy that does not carry heavy tragic tones, but if the play is considered a comedy, it is a rather dark comedy.
A festive comedy is a play that is festive in nature and does not carry dark tones. It is a fun play that usually ends up in multiple marriages and leaves the reader cheery and satisfied. As stated above, both plays revolve around romantic love stories. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, five ouples appear to be in love. Three of these five couples will be discussed. First, there is Duke Theseus and Hippolyta. Hippolyta is the Amazon queen who Duke Theseus recently conquered in battle. Then there are the four often interchangeable young lovers Hermia, Helena, Demetrius, and Lysander. Readers often either lack to notice or choose to ignore the fact that Hippolyta is a captive. This can be attributed to Theseus’ anxiousness to marry her and the positive light that Theseus is cast in throughout the play.
In one of the most serious moments in the play, when Hermia’s father wants to kill her because she wants to marry Lysander rather than Demetrius, Theseus calms down the situation by giving Hermia the alternate choice of becoming a nun. In the first act of the play, the reader can see that Theseus wants to avoid death and strives to keep the focus of everything on his upcoming wedding. Because they are quickly disregarded, these controversial moments in the first act don’t take away from the festive feel of the play. In The Merchant of Venice, there are three romantic relationships.
Bassanio and Portia are the main couple, followed by Jessica and Lorenzo, and Nerissa and Graziano. The number of couples attributes to the lack of love in this play compared to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but so does the depth of the love. The relationships in The Merchant of Venice do not feel acquire the depth that the relationships in A Midsummer Night’s Dream do, perhaps because of the tricks that the lovers in The Merchant of Venice play on each other, or because of the magic that is present in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Bassanio “wins” Portia by picking the correct chest out of three chests. Jessica, Shylock’s daughter, is a Jew, and runs away with Lorenzo, a Christian. Nerissa and Graziano are a couple who seems to bicker quite often. Bassanio is the most loved character in the play. Oddly enough, it is not by his wife, Portia, but by Antonio. Antonio has enough love for Bassanio that he puts his life at risk for him. The love Antonio has for Bassanio extends past the love shared in the romantic relationships, which takes away from the festive love hat can be found in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. One of the main differences between these two plays is the appearance of a supernatural world. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, there is a fairy world, but no supernatural world appears in The Merchant of Venice. The fairy world gives a magical feel to A Midsummer Night’s Dream that makes it very festive. Many of the scenes contain a magical setting that allows the reader to knowingly enter a world of fantasy. For example, the mischievous fairy Puck uses a love potion that makes someone fall in love with the first person they see.
The fairly world is not a part of the reader’s reality, so when they enter a world of fantasy in a play, they are distracted from the serious tones of the play by the festiveness of a fictional world. As stated above, The Merchant of Venice does not contain supernatural elements, causing the reader to focus on the serious scenes. Prejudice is a major part of this play. Although in Shakespeare’s time they did not define this prejudice, it can now be defined as anti-Semitism. When the reader enters The Merchant of Venice, there is nothing fictional like fairies to distract them.
Instead, they experience a story filled with something that has been and continues to be very present in the world. Because prejudice is a real issue and love juice is not, there is a heavier tone to The Merchant of Venice that cannot be found in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Although both plays circle around characters in romantic relationships, each have a highly important character that influence the actions of the other characters. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the character that gets the ball rolling is Puck.
Puck is a fairy who likes to stir up trouble, and instead of pouring the love potion into Demetrius’ eyes like he is supposed to, he accidentally pours it into Lysander’s eyes while he is sleeping. This sets off a chain reaction of people being in love with the wrong person due to this love potion. Near the end of the play, Puck fixes everything, which leaves everyone happy and ready to get married. In The Merchant of Venice, the character Shylock is very influential and important to the story.
Unlike Puck, he does not add festivity to the play, but rather intensity. Puck loves to stir up trouble for the fun of it, but Shylock is filled with hate because he is a Jew in a Christian world. The reader can see this early in the play when he says “I hate him for he is a Christian” (1. 3. 42) while talking about Antonio. This hatred that Shylock adds to the play is one of the main reasons that it is considered a problem play or tragicomedy. Throughout the play the darkness increases, specifically when Shylock labels Antonio’s debt as a pound of his own flesh.
At the end of play during the trial scene, Shylock goes to the extent of sharpening his knife to carry out cutting off a pound of Antonio’s flesh. Because the play is not a tragedy, Shylock is not allowed by the law to carry out this action, which further blurs the lines of which genre The Merchant of Venice belongs in. All in all, The Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Night’s Dream are both early plays that contain romantic relationships that end in marriages. Although they share this, they do not share a genre.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is indisputably a festive comedy due to the magical elements present in the play and the overwhelmingly happy and comedic tones. The Merchant of Venice is not so easily categorized because it has both aspects of a comedy and a tragedy. The prejudice tones and dark events make it too dark to be a comedy, but the comedic scenes and happiness of the majority at the end of the play makes it too bright to be a tragedy, leaving it categorized as a problem play or tragicomedy