Guffaws of a Shakespearean Nature

July 1, 2019 by Essay Writer

As a playwright, William Shakespeare has few, if indeed any, colleagues of equal renown. He skillfully created works of incredible diversity; some tragic, others historical, and yet others comedic. Of this last genre, Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice is an example. Through an excerpt defining comic literature by Northrop Frye, we can carefully examine this play and more fully discern why it is considered a comedy. According to Frye, New Comedy presents a romantic intrigue between a man and a woman, hindered by an opposition controlling their present society. A twist in the plot resolves the conflict, allowing the couple to live merrily in an idyllic society.Love has been said to make the world go around, and upon studying the contents of The Merchant of Venice, the interest in the matters of love is certainly found to be pervasive. Many references to romantic intrigues are made, establishing the play as one of New Comedy. One of the chief couples in The Merchant of Venice is that of Bassanio and Portia. The intrigue to romance is first presented through Bassanio regarding Portia. He confides to Antonio, “In Belmont is a lady…/And she is fair, and fairer than that word,/Of wondrous virtues….Her name is Portia…” (Act 1, Scene 1, ll. 161-165). Through this passage, Bassanio reveals he is smitten with Portia. In his estimation, Bassanio also feels certain he could woo the lady: “…many Jasons come in quest of her/…[were] I [able]/To hold a rival place with one of them…/I should questionless be fortunate!” (Act 1, Scene 1, ll. 173-176). Once in Portia’s presence, he says to her, “Promise me life and I’ll confess the truth….love/Had been the very sum of my confession!” (Act 3, Scene 2, ll. 33-36). In declaring himself, Bassanio reveals to his lady his amorous feelings for her. At yet another instance, Bassanio shows himself to be besotted with fair Portia, while scrutinizing a portrait of this last: “Yet look, how far/The substance of my praise doth wrong this shadow/In underprizing it…” (Act 3, Scene 2, ll. 126-128). Confirming beyond doubt the feelings Bassanio has for Portia, are his words to Antonio: “…I am married to a wife/Which is as dear to me as life itself” (Act 4, Scene 1, ll. 280-281). From these excerpts, the love Bassanio holds for the lady Portia is virtually palpable. There is an undeniable romantic intrigue throughout The Merchant of Venice, on Bassanio’s behalf.However, Bassanio is not the only soul to be struck by Cupid’s arrow. The object of his affections is, in her own turn, smitten. Portia complements the love Bassanio holds for her, with her own partiality for him. Although Portia is not as outspoken as Bassanio, she says to her maid, “I remember him well, and I remember him worthy of thy praise,” in response the Nerissa’s observation of Bassanio: “…He, of all the men that ever my/foolish eyes looked upon, was the best deserving a fair/lady.” (Act 1, Scene 2, ll. 108-112). Once the object of her affections has come, Portia begs of him: “I pray you tarry…/Before you hazard, for in choosing wrong/I lose your company” (Act 3, Scene 1, ll. 1-3). With these words, Portia discloses her feelings to Bassanio. She reaffirms them, when she exclaims to Bassanio: “One half of me is yours, the other half yours-/Mine own I would say; but if mine then yours,/And so all yours!” (Act 3, Scene 2, ll. 16-18). When Bassanio successfully gains Portia’s hand in marriage, she says in sheer ecstasy, “O love…./I feel too much thy blessing” (Act 3, Scene 2, l. 61). Once more does Portia emphasize her love for Bassanio, telling him, “Since you are dear bought, I will love you dear” (Act 2, Scene 3, l. 313). Through the comments of an extolling Portia, there is irrefutable evidence of her amorous fascination with Bassanio. Frequent are the references to love when Bassanio or Portia speak. Thus The Merchant of Venice meets one of the requirements of a New Comedy play as defined by Northrop Frye-romantic intrigue between a man and a woman.Life is not always a bowl of cherries, and within the texts of The Merchant of Venice, this fact becomes startlingly clear. The play is beset with pitfalls and obstructions, which are solved by an intricate pattern of entangled events. These hindrances, imposed upon the lovers Bassanio and Portia, and their resolutions, help identify this drama as one of New Comedy. Initially, the largest impediment facing Bassanio was his lack of funds: ” ‘Tis not unknown to you, Antonio,/How much I have disabled mine estate” (Act 1, Scene 1, ll. 122-123). As a result of his self-professed poorness, Bassanio cannot afford to try and win Portia. Again to Antonio, he confides, “…had I but the means/…I have a mind presages me such thrift/That I should questionless be fortunate!” (Act 1, Scene 1, ll. 173-176). Upon hearing this, Antonio offers aid to Bassanio: “…my credit…/Shall be racked even to the uttermost/To furnish thee to Belmont, to fair Portia” (Act 1, Scene 1, ll. 180-182). In this fashion, Bassanio is able to obtain enough money to make worthy suit to Portia. Coincidentally, however, Antonio’s generosity to Bassanio blocks the latter’s happiness further on in the play. To loan Bassanio the amount he needed to woo Portia, Antonio borrowed from Shylock, who agreed to take for collateral: “…an equal pound/of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken/In what part of your body pleaseth me” (Act 1, Scene 3, ll. 145-147). Antonio sealed to that bond, (Act 1, Scene 3, l. 148), and was held to it when he was unable to repay Shylock by the set date. Bassanio received news of the forfeiture, and in distress tells Portia: “When I told you/My state was nothing, I should then have told you/That I was worse than nothing; for indeed/I have…Engaged my friend to his mere enemy/To feed my means” (Act 3, Scene 2, ll. 258-263). Antonio’s one wish is to see Bassanio before he dies from the forfeiture of his bond. (Act 3, Scene 2, ll. 317-319). In haste Bassanio departs from Portia, who he’d not yet wed when Antonio’s letter arrived. The forfeiture of Antonio’s bond is yet another barrier to Bassanio’s peaceful and contented life. This is resolved with a twist when unknown to all, his new wife, Portia, disguises herself as a judge and presides over Shylock’s case. She uses the illusory quality of language against Shylock, and succeeds in saving Antonio’s life. (Act 4, Scene 1, ll. 322-334). Were it not for the twist in the plot where Portia, acting as judge, saves Antonio from certain death, Bassanio would have forever been denied the happiness he sought. He would have been plagued by the death of his dear friend, “I will be bound to pay it ten times o’er/On forfeit of my hands, my head, my heart” (Act 4, Scene 1, ll. 209-210). Having resolved the conflict, Portia makes her way back home, where she greets Bassanio and Antonio, both free of any debts, to live in tranquility and love. The above quotes of characters in The Merchant of Venice point steadily to the play being one of New Comedy.As fortune might have it, life often presents more than one trial to be overcome by poor hapless individuals. It is no different in The Merchant of Venice. While Bassanio has his own financial difficulties, Portia is disallowed her freedom of choice, and therefore her contentment, in the matters of love. In his will, her deceased father explained the way in which Portia would find a suitor. Portia chaffs under the restrictions imposed upon her, and she makes it known while complaining to Nerissa, “If I live to be as old as Sibylla, I will die as chaste/as Diana unless I be obtained by the manner of my/father’s will” (Act 1, Scene 2, ll. 98-100). Though Nerissa reminds her lady that “…the lott’ry/that [your father] hath devised…/will no doubt never be chosen by any rightly but/one who you shall rightly love” (Act 1, Scene 2, ll. 27-31), Portia remains unhappy. This is evident through her words: “…I/may neither choose who I would nor refuse who I/dislike, so is the will of a living daughter curbed by the will/of a dead father….I cannot choose one,/nor refuse none” (Act 1, Scene 2, ll. 21-25). Though many suitors come to try their luck for Portia’s hand, none are successful. Portia exclaims, “O these deliberate fools! When they do choose,/They have the wisdom by their wit to lose” (Act 2, Scene 9, ll. 79-80). She implies that all of those potential suitors were egotistical idiots, and therefore unlike the one who would choose correctly. He turns out to be Bassanio, who has wisdom enough not to make the same mistakes as earlier suitors: “There is no vice so simple but assumes/Some mark of virtue on his outward parts” (Act 3, Scene 2, ll. 81-82). Sent to his fate by Portia’s words, “If you do love me, you will find me out” (Act 3, Scene 2, l. 41) Bassanio remarks to himself while regarding the three caskets, “The world is still deceived with ornament” (Act 3, Scene 2, l. 74). Bassanio’s choice is affected by his wisdom and humbleness: “…thou meager lead/Which rather threaten’st than dost promise aught,/…here choose I” (Act 3, Scene 2, ll. 104-107). Due to his prudence and humility, Bassanio is awarded the hand of Portia: “You that choose not by the view/Chance as fair, and choose as true./… Turn to where your lady is,/And claim her with a loving kiss” (Act 3, Scene 2, ll. 131-138). If not for the twist in the plot preventing another suitor of equal intelligence and modesty from first winning Portia’s hand, she and Bassanio would have been denied sharing the love they held for each other. The flow of events allowed Bassanio to turn up at the right time, and to possess the qualities desired by Portia’s dead father in a husband for his daughter. As a result, Bassanio wins Portia’s hand according to her father’s desires, and they are happily married. The fashion in which the difficulty imposed by Portia’s father is resolved, leads to the conclusion that The Merchant of Venice is indeed of New Comedy genre.Returning to Northrop Frye’s definition of New Comedy, it “presents a romantic intrigue between a young man and a young woman…blocked by some kind of opposition” (Frye, The Anatomy of Criticism). There is no shortage of indications that these conditions exist between Bassanio and Portia during the entire play, as shown through their disclosures to each other and to others. The romantic intrigue presented, and the obstacles the two lovers must overcome before retiring to a haven of peace and happiness, allows Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice to characterize perfectly Frye’s New Comedy. BibliographyFrye, Northrop. The Anatomy of Criticism. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1972.Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. New York, New York: Penguin Books, 1987.

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