the merchant of venice


  • One of the last shots of the film also brings attention to the fact that, as a convert, Shylock would have been cast out of the Jewish community in Venice, no longer allowed
    to live in the ghetto.

  • In his plays and poetry Shakespeare often depicted strong male bonds of varying homosociality, which has led some critics to infer that Bassanio returns Antonio’s affections
    despite his obligation to marry:[20] ANTONIO: Commend me to your honourable wife: Tell her the process of Antonio’s end, Say how I lov’d you, speak me fair in death; And, when the tale is told, bid her be judge Whether Bassanio had not once
    a love.

  • [29] Kean and Irving presented a Shylock justified in wanting his revenge; Adler’s Shylock evolved over the years he played the role, first as a stock Shakespearean villain,
    then as a man whose better nature was overcome by a desire for revenge, and finally as a man who operated not from revenge but from pride.

  • [13] In a series of articles called Observer, first published in 1785, British playwright Richard Cumberland created a character named Abraham Abrahams, who is quoted as saying,
    “I verily believe the odious character of Shylock has brought little less persecution upon us, poor scattered sons of Abraham, than the Inquisition itself.

  • [11] The title page of the Quarto indicates that the play was sometimes known as The Jew of Venice in its day, which suggests that it was seen as similar to Marlowe’s early
    1590s work The Jew of Malta.

  • Another interpretation of Shylock and a vision of how “must he be acted” appears at the conclusion of the autobiography of Alexander Granach, a noted Jewish stage and film
    actor in Weimar Germany (and later in Hollywood and on Broadway).

  • [25] Shylock on stage Jewish actor Jacob Adler and others report that the tradition of playing Shylock sympathetically began in the first half of the 19th century with Edmund
    Kean,[26] and that previously the role had been played “by a comedian as a repulsive clown or, alternatively, as a monster of unrelieved evil.”

  • Joseph Fiennes, however, who plays Bassanio, encouraged a homoerotic interpretation and, in fact, surprised Irons with the kiss on set, which was filmed in one take.

  • Although classified as a comedy in the First Folio and sharing certain aspects with Shakespeare’s other romantic comedies, the play is most remembered for its dramatic scenes,
    and it is best known for Shylock and his famous demand for a “pound of flesh” in retribution, as well as its “Hath not a Jew eyes?”

  • (IV, i) In his essay “Brothers and Others”, published in The Dyer’s Hand, W. H. Auden describes Antonio as “a man whose emotional life, though his conduct may be chaste, is
    concentrated upon a member of his own sex.”

  • Similarly, it is possible that Shakespeare meant Shylock’s forced conversion to Christianity to be a “happy ending” for the character, as, to a Christian audience, it saves
    his soul and allows him to enter Heaven.

  • In a 1902 interview with Theater magazine, Adler pointed out that Shylock is a wealthy man, “rich enough to forgo the interest on three thousand ducats” and that Antonio is
    “far from the chivalrous gentleman he is made to appear.

  • [3] In addition, the test of the suitors at Belmont, the merchant’s rescue from the “pound of flesh” penalty by his friend’s new wife disguised as a lawyer, and her demand
    for the betrothal ring in payment are all elements present in the 14th-century tale Il Pecorone by Giovanni Fiorentino, which was published in Milan in 1558.

  • — Act III, scene I It is difficult to know whether the sympathetic reading of Shylock is entirely due to changing sensibilities among readers – or whether Shakespeare, a writer
    who created complex, multi-faceted characters, deliberately intended this reading.

  • Michael Radford, director of the 2004 film version starring Al Pacino, explained that, although the film contains a scene where Antonio and Bassanio actually kiss, the friendship
    between the two is platonic, in line with the prevailing view of male friendship at the time.

  • Antonio says he is content that the state waive its claim to half Shylock’s wealth if he can have his one-half share “in use” until Shylock’s death, when the principal would
    be given to Lorenzo and Jessica.

  • Antonio parts with his gloves without a second thought, but Bassanio gives the ring only after much persuasion from Antonio, as earlier in the play he promised his wife never
    to lose, sell or give it.

  • Fiennes defended his choice, saying “I would never invent something before doing my detective work in the text.

  • o Though based in part on Shakespeare’s play, it was also based on Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta, as well as stories by Giovanni Fiorentino, Masuccio Salernitano
    and Pietro Aretino.

  • Rowe expressed doubts about this interpretation as early as 1709; Doggett’s success in the role meant that later productions would feature the troupe clown as Shylock.

  • Jewish critic Harold Bloom suggests that, although the play gives merit to both cases, the portraits are not even-handed: “Shylock’s shrewd indictment of Christian hypocrisy
    delights us, but … Shakespeare’s intimations do not alleviate the savagery of his portrait of the Jew…”[19] Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Shylock, painted by Charles Buchel (1895–1935) Antonio, Bassanio Antonio’s unexplained depression
    – “In sooth I know not why I am so sad” – and utter devotion to Bassanio has led some critics to theorise that he is suffering from unrequited love for Bassanio and is depressed because Bassanio is coming to an age where he will marry a woman.

  • She cites a law under which Shylock, as a Jew and therefore an “alien”, having attempted to take the life of a citizen, has forfeited his property, half to the government
    and half to Antonio, leaving his life at the mercy of the Duke.

  • [12] Regardless of what Shakespeare’s authorial intent may have been, the play has been made use of by antisemites throughout the play’s history.

  • [62] David Henry Wilson’s play Shylock’s Revenge, was first produced at the University of Hamburg in 1989, and follows the events in The Merchant of Venice.

  • All of the characters come from those two plays with the exception of Jeff (a monkey); the gigantic simpleton Drool; and Pocket, the Fool, who comes from Moore’s earlier novel
    Fool, based on King Lear.

  • With this film, Weber became the first woman to direct a full-length feature film in America.

  • [58] The rock musical Fire Angel was based on the story of the play, with the scene changed to the Little Italy district of New York.

  • [10] Shakespeare’s play may be seen as a continuation of this tradition.

  • Even if Shakespeare did not intend the play to be read this way, the fact that it retains its power on stage for audiences who may perceive its central conflicts in radically
    different terms is an illustration of the subtlety of Shakespeare’s characterisations.

  • As Balthazar, Portia in a famous speech repeatedly asks Shylock to show mercy, advising him that mercy “is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes” (Act
    IV, Sc 1, Line 185).

  • Those who see the speech as sympathetic point out that Shylock says he learned the desire for revenge from the Christian characters: “If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should
    his sufferance be by Christian example?

  • speech redeems him and even makes him into something of a tragic figure; in the speech, Shylock argues that he is no different from the Christian characters.

  • “[14] Cumberland later wrote a successful play, The Jew (1794), in which his title character, Sheva, is portrayed sympathetically, as both a kindhearted and generous man.

  • “[68] One of the four short stories comprising Alan Isler’s The Bacon Fancier (1999) is also told from Shylock’s point of view.

  • One interpretation of the play’s structure is that Shakespeare meant to contrast the mercy of the main Christian characters with the Old Testament vengefulness of a Jew, who
    lacks the religious grace to comprehend mercy.

  • The play was entered in the Register of the Stationers Company, the method at that time of obtaining copyright for a new play, by James Roberts on 22 July 1598 under the title
    “the Marchaunt of Venyce or otherwise called the Jewe of Venyce.

  • She took a substantial amount of Shylock’s wealth with her, as well as a turquoise ring which Shylock had been given by his late wife, Leah.

  • [28] Jacob Adler was the most notable of the early 20th century: Adler played the role in Yiddish-language translation, first in Manhattan’s Yiddish Theater District in the
    Lower East Side, and later on Broadway, where, to great acclaim, he performed the role in Yiddish in an otherwise English-language production.

  • There was, states Auden, a traditional “association of sodomy with usury”, reaching back at least as far as Dante, with which Shakespeare was likely familiar.

  • [65] In David Fincher’s 1995 crime thriller Seven, a lawyer, Eli Gould, is coerced to remove a pound of his own flesh and place it on a scale, alluding to the play.

  • The play was mentioned by Francis Meres in 1598, so it must have been familiar on the stage by that date.

  • Antonio’s frustrated devotion is a form of idolatry: the right to live is yielded for the sake of the loved one.

  • [27] From Kean’s time forward, all of the actors who have famously played the role, with the exception of Edwin Booth, who played Shylock as a simple villain, have chosen
    a sympathetic approach to the character; even Booth’s father, Junius Brutus Booth, played the role sympathetically.

  • He finally agrees to lend the sum to Bassanio without interest upon one condition: if Antonio were unable to repay it at the specified date, Shylock may take a pound of Antonio’s

  • [9] In Venice and in some other places, Jews were required to wear a red hat at all times in public to make sure that they were easily identified, and had to live in a ghetto.

  • Henry Irving’s portrayal of an aristocratic, proud Shylock (first seen at the Lyceum in 1879, with Portia played by Ellen Terry) has been called “the summit of his career”.

  • “[21] The playbill from a 1741 production at the Theatre Royal of Drury Lane Performance history The earliest performance of which a record has survived was held at the court
    of King James in the spring of 1605, followed by a second performance a few days later, but there is no record of any further performances in the 17th century.

  • The first suitor, the Prince of Morocco, chooses the gold casket, interpreting its slogan, “Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire”, as referring to Portia.

  • A depiction of Jessica, from The Graphic Gallery of Shakespeare’s Heroines At Venice, Antonio’s ships are reported lost at sea, so the merchant cannot repay the bond.

  • Both Antonio and Shylock, agreeing to put Antonio’s life at a forfeit, stand outside the normal bounds of society.

  • The Christians in the courtroom urge Shylock to love his enemies, although they themselves have failed in the past.

  • [42] o Set around 1930, Henry Goodman played Shylock.

  • “Shylock, however unintentionally, did, in fact, hazard all for the sake of destroying the enemy he hated, and Antonio, however unthinkingly he signed the bond, hazarded all
    to secure the happiness of the man he loved.”

  • In 1741, Charles Macklin returned to the original text in a very successful production at Drury Lane, paving the way for Edmund Kean seventy years later (see below).

  • [50] Although described in the vocal score as “a Shakespearean Opera” the play was perhaps better defined as a “play with music”, with 27 musical sections or arias.

  • [57] In both versions of the comic film To Be or Not to Be (1942 and 1983) the character “Greenberg”, specified as a Jew in the later version, gives a recitation of the “Hath
    Not a Jew eyes?”

  • They cite as evidence that Shylock’s “trial” at the end of the play is a mockery of justice, with Portia acting as a judge when she has no right to do so.

  • Sources The forfeit of a merchant’s deadly bond after standing surety for a friend’s loan was a common tale in England in the late 16th century.

  • [16] Shylock as a sympathetic character Shylock and Portia (1835) by Thomas Sully Many modern readers and theatregoers have read the play as a plea for tolerance, noting that
    Shylock is a sympathetic character.

  • In this play Shylock gets his wealth back and becomes a Jew again.

  • Her father left a will stipulating that each of her suitors must choose correctly from one of three caskets, made of gold, silver and lead respectively.

  • This version (which featured a masque) was popular, and was acted for the next forty years.

  • [66] The German Belmont Prize was established in 1997,[67] referring to ‘Belmont’ as “a place of destiny where Portia’s intelligence is at home.”

  • [4] Elements of the trial scene are also found in The Orator by Alexandre Sylvane, published in translation in 1596.

  • Defeated, Shylock consents to accept Bassanio’s offer of money for the defaulted bond: first his offer to pay “the bond thrice”, which Portia rebuffs, telling him to take
    his bond, and then merely the principal; but Portia also prevents him from doing this, on the ground that he has already refused it “in the open court”.

  • As Bassanio ponders his choice, members of Portia’s household sing a song that says that “fancy” (not true love) is “engend’red in the eyes, / With gazing fed”;[2] Bassanio
    chooses the lead casket and wins Portia’s hand.

  • He’s not saying they’re gay or they’re straight, he’s leaving it up to his actors.

  • BASSANIO: But life itself, my wife, and all the world Are not with me esteemed above thy life; I would lose all, ay, sacrifice them all Here to this devil, to deliver you.

  • The Merchant of Venice is a 16th-century play written by William Shakespeare in which a merchant in Venice named Antonio defaults on a large loan provided by a Jewish moneylender,

  • Bassanio does not recognise his disguised wife, but offers to give a present to the supposed lawyer.

  • A date of 1596–97 is considered consistent with the play’s style.

  • Shylock is at first reluctant to grant the loan, citing abuse he has suffered at Antonio’s hand.

  • [18] In the trial Shylock represents what Elizabethan Christians believed to be the Jewish desire for “justice”, contrasted with their obviously superior Christian value of

  • The Duke, wishing to save Antonio but unable to nullify a contract, refers the case to a visitor.


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Photo credit:’]