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The merchant of venice much ado about nothing the taming of

Shakespeare uses similar comic elements to effect

similar outcomes in his works. Many of his plays

utilize trickery and disguise to accomplish similar


Trickery plays a major role in The Merchant of

Venice and drives most of the action, while mistaken

identity, specifically Portia's disguise as the

"learned attorney's" representative, plays a major

role in the resolution of the play. The first

instance of trickery in the play is Bassanio's plan to

present himself as a financially sound suitor, when in

truth, he is not.

Bassanio believes that he would stand a very good

chance of being the successful suitor if he had the

proper money backing him. Bassanio then goes to his

friend Antonio to try to secure a loan to provide for

his wooing.

O my Antonio, had I but the means/To hold a rival

place with one of them [other suitors]/I have a

mind presages me such thrift/That I should

questionless be fortunate!" (Shakespeare,

Merchant 1.1 173-176)

However, Antonio has, "neither the money, nor

commodity/to raise a present sum" but urges Bassanio

to go through Venice to try to secure a loan using

Antonio's bond as credit (Shakespeare, Merchant 1.1


One of the resident money-lenders of Venice is an

individual called Shylock, a person of Jewish descent.

The practice of usury was traditionally banned by the

Christian church. This allowed many Jews, because

their belief system contained no objection to

profitable money-lending, to become the de facto loan

officers. Bassanio approaches Shylock to ask for a

loan, and Shylock seems as if he is going to agree,

however, he first asks to speak with Antonio. It is

revealed in an aside that Shylock harbors a secret

hatred of Antonio because of his religion and

Shylock's belief that Antonio's practices drive down

the interest rates that Shylock can charge in Venice.

Here we see the second instance of trickery and

deception within The Merchant of Venice. Shylock

seems to have great knowledge of the positions of

Antonio's fleet and ominously notes that, "ships are

but boards, sailors but men" (Shakespeare, Merchant

1.3 20). Earlier in the scene Shylock seems hesitant,

which, "we can construe ... as playing for time while he

forms his plan (Barber 211). Shylock agrees to accept

the loan, using Antonio's bond as credit, but refuses

to charge interest on it. Instead, he chooses, in

"merry sport," to insert a clause that states he will

have the right to one pound of Antonio's flesh if the

bond should be forfeited. Antonio, thinking that his

ships will arrive before the date the loan falls due,

agrees to the conditions that Shylock sets forth.

Clearly, Shylock has calculated that the chances of

Antonio's fleet not making it back to port are rather

good, and this bit of trickery sets up the main action

of the play.

Trickery is also present in The Taming of the

Shrew. In this work, Bianca, the "good" daughter has

three suitors vying for her love. Gremio, an old,

prosperous, and well-respected gentleman; Hortensio,

another gentleman in the town; and Lucentio, a newly

arrived wealthy traveler, all will fight for her

affections. Gremio figures very little in the

courting of Bianca, mostly due to his age and small

chance of success, but the remaining suitors hatch a

plot to win the love of Bianca.

Hortensio and Lucentio decide to become

schoolteachers, because Baptista, Bianca's father, is

planning to find tutors for her. Hortensio decides to

become a music teacher, and Lucentio a Latin teacher.

They approach Baptista who consents to let them both

tutor his daughters. The initial session, held with

Kate, the shrew, does not go well for either, but then

they are allowed to tutor Bianca. Lucentio eventually

discloses his true identity to Bianca and tells her

their plot. Bianca reveals that she is interested in

Lucentio but still leads them both on for quite some

time. This is one of the examples of trickery and

deception practiced in The Taming of the Shrew.

Trickery is also present in Much Ado About

Nothing. In this work Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon,

hatches a plan to bring Beatrice and Benedick

together. Benedick is a lord, and a well-known

philanderer, who is adamantly against marriage.

Beatrice, a relative of the Governor, is a witty

resident of his manor. There have been suggestions by

some critics that the Kate and Beatrice characters are

closely related. "It is surprising how much Beatrice

in Much Ado is modeled after Kate in the Taming of the

Shrew, given that the two plays are separated by about

five years" (Charney 58). Beatrice and Benedick wage

what Leonato calls a "merry war" where "they never

meet but there's a skirmish of wit be-/tween them"

(Shakespeare, Much 1.1 60-61). Don Pedro's plot,

which includes Claudio, Hero, and Leonato, centers

around informing both Beatrice and Benedick that the

other one is madly in love with the other but does not

want to reveal it. They believe, correctly, that

faced with this knowledge the "merry war" between them

will end, and the romance will start.

Trickery, present in all the works, generally

plays the same role in each. Each instance of

trickery has been the result, either directly or

indirectly, of an attempt to bring together a man and

a woman. In The Merchant of Venice it is Bassanio's

desire to woo Portia, in The Taming of the Shrew it is

the suitors' desire to win Bianca, in Much Ado About

Nothing it is the group's desire to bring Benedick and

Beatrice together.

Another device used in each of these three plays

is the use of disguise and, as a result of the

disguise, mistaken identity. According to A.P.


[Much Ado About Nothing's] date ... invites one of

two general approaches to interpretation. Either

this is all trivial, however clever: the author

is totally disengaged throughout, and we are

foolish to look for anything in any way deep,

ourselves solemnly making ado about nothing; or

it is a brilliantly superficial and deliberately

limited 'Italian' love-fantasia on the theme of

deception by appearances...." (163)

The disguises seen in The Taming of the Shrew are

used during the courting of Bianca and by Lucentio and

Tranio. Lucentio decides that Tranio, his servant,

and he should change places so that his courting of

Bianca could be accomplished more easily. Tranio,

taken with the idea of being able to join the upper-

class, even if it is only for a short while, readily


Disguise is also seen in The Taming of the Shrew

when Lucentio and Hortensio plot to win Bianca. The

two disguise themselves as teachers to gain access to

Bianca, without the trouble of the shrew or Bianca's


Disguise occurs in Much Ado About Nothing, but to

a somewhat lesser extent. In this work, most of the

cast is dressed up for a costume ball that is held

early in the play. In this instance, Beatrice is

paired with a disguised Benedick for the evening.

Beatrice, however, sees through the disguise rather

easily and continues their verbal sparring, much to

the dismay of Benedick. Mistaken identity plays a

much greater role in the play, however.

Don John, Don Pedro's bastard brother, harbors a

great hatred for Don Pedro and his followers. Don

John's initial plot to prevent the marriage of Claudio

and Hero fails measurably, so he hatches another, more

complex plot to destroy the couple. Don John feigns

reconciliation with Don Pedro on the day before

Claudio and Hero's wedding is to take place. After

Don John wins back the trust of his brother, he

reveals that he believes that Hero has not been true

to Claudio. To prove this, he invites Don Pedro and

Claudio to peep at Hero's bedchamber window later that

night. Beforehand, Don John has inserted his lackey,

Borachio and his lover Margaret into Hero's

bedchamber. He instructs Borachio to make love to

Margaret, at Hero's windows, at the appointed hour.

Thus, when Don Pedro, Don John, and Claudio come by,

they witness the scene in the window, and decide to

reveal what they have seen at the wedding tomorrow.

During the wedding, Claudio refuses to marry Hero.

Don Pedro's party, save Benedick, walk out of the


However, Hero does in fact use disguise to clear

herself of the false accusations.

That fact that the heroine often brings about

the comic resolution by disguising herself as a

boy is familiary enough. In the Hero of Much Ado

About Nothing ... this theme of the withdrawal and

return of the heroine comes as close to a death

and revival as Elizabethan conventions will

allow. (Frye 171)

The Merchant of Venice also contains instances of

disguise and mistaken identity. In this work, Portia

and Nerissa, Portia's lady-in-waiting, disguise

themselves as a lawyer and law clerk, respectively.

They arrive at the hearing between Shylock and

Antonio, where Shylock is trying to force the

collection of his pound of flesh. All looks lost when

the two arrive, for Shylock does have the law on his

side and is intent about the collection of the flesh

from Antonio. Here, however, both trickery and

disguise play a role in Shylock's undoing.

Portia first gives a speech about mercy to

Shylock, but Shylock refuses to be swayed by her or

the Duke. Portia offers Shylock triple what is due to

him, if he will relent on the collection of the pound

of flesh, but still he will hear nothing of it.

Portia appears to give up, but then states that

Shylock can, and must, take his pound of flesh,

however, she adds,

This bond doth give thee here no jot of

Blood;/The words expressly are 'a pound of

flesh.'/Take then thy bond, take thou thy pound

flesh;/But in cutting it if thou dost shed/One

drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods/Are

by the laws of Venice confiscate/upto the state

of Venice. (Shakespeare, Merchant 4.1 304-309)

Shylock immediately sees the inherent problem in the

situation that he has locked himself into, and

declares that he will accept triple the amount, and

let Antonio go. Portia refuses to accept this, and

Shylock is forced to pay half his worth to Antonio,

convert to Christianity, and agree to bequeath the

remainder of his worth to his daughter. Shylock

grudgingly accepts and leaves the court embittered.

The use of disguise is somewhat similar to the

common practice of doubling-the use of the same person

to play two characters-and probably had economic

reasons behind it. The net effect of both practices

is essentially another character added without the

expense of another actor. "The economic motives for

the use of doubling are obvious enough: the size of a

regular company ... would [be limited in] human

resources" (Oz 177).

Similarly to trickery, disguise and mistaken

identities play an important role in each one of the

plays. In The Taming of the Shrew, it provides for

the coupling of Lucentio and Bianca. In Much Ado

About Nothing it is again involved in marriage, but in

this case almost destroys one. However, through

trickery and disguise, the marriage is saved. In The

Merchant of Venice it saves the marriage of Portia and

Bassanio, because it seems likely that Bassanio would

have committed suicide if Antonio were to die.

Another common occurrence in Shakespeare's

comedies is that of shipwrecks, and instances where

the sea plays a major negative role. "Though there

are no shipwrecks in The Merchant of Venice,

experiencing the hell of high water and ships running

aground are crucial in the play's development,"

according to David M. Bergeron (116). Bergeron

furhter elaborates that, "experience at sea and its

conseuqnces help delineate Shakespeare's romantic

world, a world that he inherited in which problems,

expecially love problems, are solved" (112).

Besides shipwrecks and trickery, many of the

characters in Shakespeare's plays are similar. For

example, "In The Merchant of Venice, Bassanio is a

fortune-hunter like Petruchio, who finances an

extravagant expedition to Belmont to woo Portia

properly..." (Charney 26).

In each of these plays, trickery, disguise, a

combination of the two, or other effects are used to

cause essentially the same ending that results in one,

or more, happily married couples.

Works Cited

Barber, C.L. The Merchants and the Jew of Venice:

Wealth's Communion and an Intruder. Modern

Shakespearean Criticism: Essays on Style,

Dramaturgy, and the Major Plays. Ed. Alvin B.

Kernan. San Diego: HBJ, 1970. 204-227.

Bergeron, David M. Come Hell or High Water:

Shakespearean Romantic Comedy. Shakespearean

Comedy. Ed. Maurice Charney. New York: New York

Literary Forum, 1980. 111-120.

Charney, Maurice. All of Shakespeare. New York:

Columbia UP, 1993.

Frye, Northrop. The Argument of Comedy. Modern

Shakespearean Criticism: Essays on Style,

Dramaturgy, and the Major Plays. Ed. Alvin B.

Kernan. San Diego: HBJ, 1970. 165-173.

Oz, Avraham. The Doubling of Parts In Shakespearean

Comedy: Some Questions of Theory and Practice.

Shakespearean Comedy. Ed. Maurice Charney. New

York: New York Literary Forum, 1980. 175-184.

Rossiter, A.P. Much Ado About Nothing. William

Shakespeare: Modern Critical Views: Comedies &

Romances. Ed. Harlod Bloom. New York: Chelsea

House Publishers, 1986. 163-176.

Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice.

Baltimore: Penguin, 1959.

Shakespeare, William. Much Ado About Nothing. New

York: Washington Square Press, 1964.

Source: Essay UK -

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