What fairytale elements can be discerned in Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice?'

Essay by xnataliex April 2004

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There are many fairytale elements in 'The Merchant of Venice'. For example, there is the idea of being three different items such as the three caskets, three thousand ducats in the bond and the three marriages. There is also the idea of deception, which is featured in many fairy tales. An example of this idea is when Jessica betrays her father to elope with Lorenzo. There is also disguise, when Portia and Nerissa disguise themselves as male layers to save Antonio from the bond. The idea of Shylock taking a pound of flesh from Antonio's body is a gory image, which makes Shylock a typical villain from a fairytale. The element of a princess who is imprisoned in a tower is added when Portia is not able to choose her own suitor due to her deceased father's wishes, as the suitor must choose from one of three caskets, and if he chooses the correct one he will be able to marry Portia.

However, Portia's ideal suitor, Bassanio, choosing the correct casket, completes this element and they are able to fall in love and live 'happily ever after'. Although 'The Merchant of Venice' displays a few characteristics from fairytales, there are very obvious elements missing such as magic and a moral to all that has happened. There is normally an obvious villain as well; although Shylock is the 'villain' in this play, there are parts where we do feel sorry for him.

The main characteristic that 'The Merchant of Venice' contains is that of the number three being used throughout the duration of the play. This characteristic occurs several times and plays a significant part in the storyline. A very popular fairytale that contains this element of the three is 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears'.