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August 07, 2005

The Venetian Play

Lance Mannion recommends "The Merchant of Venice" with Al Pacino:

Lance Mannion: We watched Merchant of Venice starring Al Pacino as Shylock last night and it was very good.... [T]his is the second production I've seen... both times I liked the story much better as a watched it unfold than I've ever enjoyed it while reading it....

Merchant is no longer an anti-semitic play. There's no getting around the fact that it was once, for almost four hundred years... and it didn't stop being an anti-semitic play until recently.... What has changed is that we do not automatically associate Jewishness with villainy of any sort.... But also we don't automatically identify with "Christian" characters. Just the opposite. We're more inclined to see a character's flaunted Christianity as a sign of his untrustworthiness.... The fact that Antonio is such a devout Christian (and a practicing anti-semite) pushes us away from Antonio and towards Shylock....

Jessica, Shylock's daughter, runs away because she feels her father's house a "hell."... The line is actually a counter to Shylock's refering to his "sober" home. Which is his way of saying that he doesn't allow any fun in his house.... Shylock is called a Jew but I think Shakespeare saw him as just another Puritan, like Angelo in Measure for Measure and Malvolio in Twelfth Night....

Jeremy Irons played Antonio as gay... this gives him much to work with---for one thing, it allows him to give Antonio a lover's vanity---but it also gives the actress playing Portia a lot to play off of too. Lynn Collins... lets Portia see the truth about Antonio and Bassanio's love for each other and shows her to be alternately jealous, afraid that she'll lose Bassanio to Antonio, angry at Bassanio for tricking her into thinking he loves her, and mad and disappointed at herself for not having figured out the truth before she fell for Bassanio....

Portia as written is something of a plaster saint. She is certainly the only wholly good and decent-hearted character in the play. But having to win Bassanio's love away from Antonio and making sure that Antonio knows she's beaten him on that score, Collins' Portia gets to be emotionally maniupulative, not merely mischievous and playful, when she pulls the ring trick on Bassanio. She also gets to be sexy. Deliberately, naughtily, and yet angrily sexy. The last we see of her she is walking off to the bedroom ahead of Bassanio, moving in such a way that she already seems to be shedding clothes, and looking back over her shoulder not just at Bassanio but at Antonio and everybody else left behind in the room to make sure they know what she is about to do....

Finally, Bassanio. It's kind of a given in discussions of Shakespeare's comedies that on the whole his male lovers aren't worthy of his heroines.... But I think Rosalind's Orlando, Viola's Orsino, and Portia's Bassanio all have been getting a bum rap. It's true that none of them speak as well as the women they love. Few characters in all of Shakespeare speak as well as Rosalind... the men come off as nearly invisible and definitely uninteresting on paper. But Shakespeare didn't create them to exist on paper. He created them to appear on a stage.... Bassanio... definitely as played by Joseph Finnes... is still undeniably worthy of Portia...

Posted by DeLong at August 7, 2005 07:10 PM