I just finished The Merchant of Venice, but will need to ponder on it for a bit before jotting down my thoughts.
It's certainly been a departure from Shakespeare's earlier plays, even if Wells, Taylor, et al. state that this play was nothing but the "natural progression of his earlier comedies".
I get what they are trying to say with respect to women disguising as men and the romantic entanglements...but all the while, the serious themes underlying the play are new and more complex than in Shakespeare's earlier comedies, and indeed some also than that of some of his histories.
I cannot read this play as a comedy. It's probably because as a reader in the 20th and 21st century, I find it impossible to ignore the antisemitism and xenophobia just as much as I cannot laugh at Shylock's predicament - having turned bitter over the years by enduring the bullying and insults of others, and basically having forsaken humanity when his daughter chooses to leave his house.
As a comedy, this does not work. As a tragedy, it does, but it is morally conflicted, and I feel that the play suffers from my reading of the play being in opposition to what the play's message seems to be.
Still, I want to rate the play higher than I probably should for providing so much food for thought, even tho this may not have been the intention of the playwright. Or maybe it was. Who knows?
Btw, someone put the NT version starring Plowright (she is ace in this!), Olivier, Brett, Withrow, Jayston, Nicholls on YouTube, which was an added bonus find this afternoon.