Although the title page of the first edition of the play “The Most Excellent Historie of the Merchant of Venice” (first print in 1600) suggested it to be a history play, it had initially been classified as a comedy. In 1623, Heminges and Condell placed The Merchant of Venice among the comedies in the First Folio of Shakespeare’s works.
However, many readers, actors, directors and playgoers still argue about the genre of the play. They have difficulties in defining The Merchant of Venice as a comedy as the following quotation shows: “Indeed, seen from any angle, The Merchant of Venice is not a very funny play, and we might gain a lot if, for the moment, we ceased to be bullied by its inclusion in the comedies.” Today, The Merchant of Venice is often read and played more like a problem play or even a tragedy.
The following term paper deals with the classification of the literary genre of The Merchant of Venice. Does the play belong to the category of comedies or shall it rather be identified as a tragedy or problem play? To assign the play to a specific category, it is necessary to shortly present the criteria of the genres comedy, tragedy and problem play. In chapter 3, the play will be analysed in terms of comic and tragic aspects. The focus is put on the flesh-bond and the courtship plot, the first having its setting in Venice, the second in Belmont. The aim of this chapter is to illustrate that The Merchant of Venice contains both comic and tragic elements. Chapter 4 deals with the complex character Shylock whose perception has changed through the centuries. Is he still the comic villain of the Elizabethan time or can he rather be seen as a victim of extreme anti-Semitism?
By giving an insight into comic and tragic aspects in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, this term paper shall try to solve the problem of assigning the play to a specific literary genre.