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November Books 3) The Merchant of Venice

3) The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare

I remember seeing the BBC version of this many years ago, and not being terribly impressed; the fault must have been in the production, because it is a good play (and to get the Arkangel bit out of the way, their version is pretty good with Trevor Peacock as Shylock and David Tennant, Scottish again this time, as Launcelot Gobbo the clown).

It scores over The Taming of the Shrew in that Shylock is a much more interesting character than Katherina. His grudge against the Christian characters is understandable; they have subjected him to racist abuse, and then they encourage his daughter to elope, stealing large amounts of his money, as well as undercutting his business. He gets one of the two great speeches of the play. ("If you prick us, do we not bleed?")

Having said that, I am not comfortable with the depiction of the character, which remains stereotyped (and there are numerous other stereotypes in the play), and his final fall and punishment are excessive. But it seems a bit more like an honest effort on Shakespeare's part to have a villainous character with some depth. And Shylock's punishment is explicitly for his failure in regard of the other great speech of the play: he fails to show mercy. (Not that the Christians show him much mercy either.)

It is a good play, but not a great one. The plot about Portia and the caskets is just silly, and the subplot of her and Nerissa and the rings is a bit heavy-handed in its humour. But I liked it more than I had expected to.

Henry VI, Part I | Henry VI, Part II | Henry VI, Part III | Richard III | Comedy of Errors | Titus Andronicus | Taming of the Shrew | Two Gentlemen of Verona | Love's Labour's Lost | Romeo and Juliet | Richard II | A Midsummer Night's Dream | King John | The Merchant of Venice | Henry IV, Part I | Henry IV, Part II | Henry V | Julius Caesar | Much Ado About Nothing | As You Like It | Merry Wives of Windsor | Hamlet | Twelfth Night | Troilus and Cressida | All's Well That Ends Well | Measure for Measure | Othello | King Lear | Macbeth | Antony and Cleopatra | Coriolanus | Timon of Athens | Pericles | Cymbeline | The Winter's Tale | The Tempest | Henry VIII | The Two Noble Kinsmen | Edward III | Sir Thomas More (fragment)


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 6th, 2008 01:23 am (UTC)
On a somewhat irrelevant note, Diane Duane's ST:TNG novel Dark Mirror includes a wicked rewrite of the play's ultimate scene.

Nov. 6th, 2008 06:59 am (UTC)
Check out Shylock by Gross if you want a detailed history of the character. It says that, for the first century, Shylock was played as a comic character, not a villain.
Nov. 6th, 2008 10:40 pm (UTC)
I remember hearing that for much of the 19th century he was played as a tragic hero.

Apparently TMOV is one of Shakespeare's many unoriginal plays, being an inferior knock-off of Marlowe's "The Jew of Malta", which is so antisemitic as to come back the other end (if such a thing is possible).
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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