Tag Archives: merchant of venice

The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice: I’ve seen and read and participated in a fair amount of Shakespeare’s plays but was unfamiliar with this story. Al Pacino plays Shylock, a Jewish man who lends the Christian Antonio three thousand ducats at zero interest with the provision that if Antonio should forfeit, Shylock may cut off a pound of his flesh. In the meantime there are all kinds of amusements going on among the main lovers: Bossanio and Portia, Gratiano and Nerissa (Shakespeare was fond of double weddings). This was meant to be a comedy, after all, with Shylock being largely played as a bumbling fool. In a more anti-semitic time, I can imagine all this being quite humorous, even Shylock’s poor end: losing all his money, being forced to give up his religion, and watching his own daughter marry a Christian. Think of it this way: if Shylock was a Nazi instead of a Jew (since Nazis are one of the few remaining acceptable Bad Guy stereotypes), would we feel very sorry for his ruin?

Even so, this is a play at odds with itself. If Jews are meant to be portrayed as such loathesome creatures, why the famous monologue wherein Shylock talks about the similarities between Christians and Jews as men (“If you prick us, do we not bleed”)? If he’s supposed to be looked upon with such scorn, why include Shylock’s comparison between being merciful to Antonio at the forfeiture of his bond and the notion of showing mercy towards slaves? Perhaps the latter would be so preposterous that the crowds would have laughed, but today it serves as a powerfully dramatic moment. Such is the beauty of Shakespeare.

Regarding this specific version, I thought it was gorgeous. The costumes and sets were amazing and the acting was actually quite good. I liked the dichotomy between the merry antics of the lovers and the tortured and blindly vengeful acts of Shylock. I liked the quiet scenes tacked onto the end of Shylock standing in the rain and his daughter Jessica looking remorseful from Portia’s palace. In the end, there were no real heroes or villains. Shakespeare, though perhaps unintentionally this time, has once again provided us with characters of such depth, such complexity, that they become truly human.

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