Question: Is the fifth act necessary dramatically or not, and what is its relation to the rest of the play?
Answer: Dramatic interest reaches its highest pitch in the trial-scene, but the fifth act is nevertheless a dramatic
necessity. As has been often observed, to preserve the
nature of a comedy, the tragic element had been carried to
its utmost extreme in the preceding act; and after the
pomp and stir and excitement of the trial-scene, the calm
moonlight scene in Portia's garden, the lyric sweetness of
the lovers' dialogue, and the final restoration of harmony
among the home-comers, are needed to reduce the mind
to the state of gentle interest and pleasure which it is the
object of the comedy to excite. Then, too, without it the
plot is left with numerous unfinished ends. Those of us
who have not such a strong predilection for artistic effect as
to wish that Shakespeare had stopped short when he completed the masterly picture contained in IV. i., think it only
natural and proper that we should witness the reunion of
Bassanio and Portia, the meeting between Antonio and
Bassanio's wife, and the effect produced upon all parties by
the announcement that it was Portia who had acted so
successfully the part of judge.
It is not without pleasure,
too, that we have a parting glimpse of Lorenzo and Jessica,
safely harbored in the peaceful domain of Belmont, and of Gratiano and Nerissa, with their half-comical, wholly serious
imitation of their lord and lady. Few things could be more
exquisite than is this fifth act, in its way; and without it
one of the great charms of The Merchant of Venice would,
to me, be lost.
How to cite this article:
Miller, Bessie Porter. Shakespeare Examinations. Ed. William Taylor Thom, M. A. Boston: Ginn and Co., 1888. Shakespeare Online. 10 Aug. 2010. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/merchant/examqm/vnine.html >.