Like its tone, the mood of Merchant fluctuates from scene to scene, sometimes even changing every few lines. For the first few scenes, the characters' attitudes seem to dictate mood. The mood starts off grim in Act 1, Scene 1, as Antonio conveys a sense of sadness that extends, too, to a sympathetic audience. In the next scene, the mood becomes tense as Portia worries about the casket game and her lack of agency in choosing a husband—but by the end of Scene 2, Portia's attitude (and the mood) becomes more lighthearted.
However, as Merchant goes on, the play's two distinct factions (Jews and Christians) emerge and face off, complicating the mood as audiences must essentially pick sides and distinguish some characters' feelings from their own. For example, Shylock is utterly distraught when his wealth and religion are stripped from him, while the Christians are far more celebratory. Audience members who sympathize with Shylock end the scene similarly tormented, as those who support Antonio may feel relieved. Shakespeare seems to encourage the former, somber mood more than the latter—having painted the Christians as less than admirable throughout the play and less worthy of sympathy—but both moods undeniably exist within this one moment.
As a tragicomedy, Merchant is meant to evoke both laughter and sadness from its audience. This tension, particularly in moments like Shylock's conviction, can leave an audience (and particularly a modern audience) feeling rather confused or uncomfortable. Merchant ultimately requires its audience to grapple with mixed emotions; readers and viewers must ask: Who should we love? Who should we hate? Who is the victim?