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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: October ::
Re: PBS Masterpiece Theatre/Merchant of Venice
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2323  Thursday, 11 October 2001

[1]     From:   Nicol Ariel <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 10 Oct 2001 16:29:34 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2317 PBS Masterpiece Theatre/Merchant of Venice

[2]     From:   Philip Tomposki <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 10 Oct 2001 15:59:28 EDT
        Subj:   RE: PBS Masterpiece Theatre/Merchant of Venice

[3]     From:   Chris Stroffolino <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 10 Oct 2001 16:54:20 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2317 PBS Masterpiece Theatre/Merchant of Venice

[4]     From:   David Crosby <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 10 Oct 2001 20:24:22 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 12.2317 PBS Masterpiece Theatre/Merchant of Venice


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Nicol Ariel <
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Date:           Wednesday, 10 Oct 2001 16:29:34 +0100
Subject: 12.2317 PBS Masterpiece Theatre/Merchant of Venice
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2317 PBS Masterpiece Theatre/Merchant of Venice

> Anyway, I was mostly writing to ask about Jessica's closing song.  Can
> anyone tells me what it was she sang?
>
> Thanks,
> jimmy

I think it's 'Eshes Chayic' -  'prayer in honour of the woman in the
house'.

[Editor's Note: I received the following from someone who appears not to
be a member of the conference:

Although I did not recognize the melody to the song Jessica sang at the
end of MOV, but I did recognize the words. They were from "Eishet Chayil
(Woman of Valor)," which is traditionally sung by Jewish men at the
beginning of the friday night Sabbath meal in honor of their wives.

The words to "Eishet Chayil" are verses 10-31 of Proverbs 31 (the last
22 verses of the book). The verse Jessica sang was verse 12: "Gemalatu
tov, v'loh rah, col y'may chayehah (she repays his good, and not bad,
all the days of her life)" (my rough translation and even rougher
transliteration).

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Philip Tomposki <
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Date:           Wednesday, 10 Oct 2001 15:59:28 EDT
Subject:        RE: PBS Masterpiece Theatre/Merchant of Venice

Jimmy Jung writes:

"Of course, this also calls in to question just how close to the edge
Portia is willing to take this and why she waits so long before adding
the "jot of blood" caveat.  I suppose one thought is that the jot of
blood caveat doesn't occur to her, until that last moment, but that
opens up another whole can of worms that seems unsatisfactory.  (Why is
she there in disguise, if she is not a lawyer and does not already have
a plan to save Antonio?)"

I've seen this in a couple of other MOV performances and had the same
reaction.  It seems extremely cavalier of Portia to risk Antonio's life
without a clear foolproof plan.  In the PBS version Portia (Derbhle
Crotty) seemed to have assumed that her (and her money's) powers of
persuasion would carry the day.  When she realizes the depth of
Shylock's hatred and resolve, she appears to be in shock, thinking her
bit of sport had doomed her husband's friend.  This makes for high drama
(Trevor Nunn was clearly not aiming for comedy) but puts it Portia in a
very bad light, and I doubt it's what WS had in mind.

A more logical approach (not that logic necessarily is the best approach
in the theater) is to have Portia string Shylock along, preparing a trap
for him.  When it become undeniably clear that he does intend to murder
Antonio, Portia stops him, with a rather casual 'Tarry a little' before
presenting her 'jot of blood' ploy.  When he finally abandons his suit,
she springs the 'alien' on him.  This works better in a comic setting,
with Portia calmly making her pronouncements, thereby signifying she has
something up here sleeve.  The audience can then enjoy the tribulation
of Antonio and his friends and Shylock's triumph, knowing that the
situation will soon be reversed, all the while wondering what the clever
gal has planned.

Alternately, Portia could intend to spring her trap, but becoming
increasingly sympathetic to Shylock as she becomes aware of the
legitimacy of his grievances.  In this case, her pleas for mercy are not
to save Antonio, but to save Shylock from himself.  Again, she waits for
the last minute to stop Shylock to be sure of his intentions.  This is
probably not what WS was thinking, but might work better with the more
serious interpretations a post-Holocaust MOV seems to demand.  (In fact,
I thought I detected hints of this in Goodman's and Crotty's
performance.)

I have a question of my own to present.  It seems strange to me that no
one thinks of the 'alien' law until after Shylock has renounced his
contract.  In fact, the implication is that the law has no bearing on
the contract at all.  This flies in the face of my admittedly limited
understanding of the law.  Killing an innocent person, whether done by
an 'alien' or not, is pretty much universally a criminal offense.  It
does not become legitimized simply by virtue of a contract.  I can't
imagine this was not true in Venice at any point in its history.  Does
anyone know if there is any basis for this, or is it simply one of those
plot devices that does not bear 'thinking too precisely on the event'?

Philip Tomposki

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Chris Stroffolino <
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Date:           Wednesday, 10 Oct 2001 16:54:20 -0700
Subject: 12.2317 PBS Masterpiece Theatre/Merchant of Venice
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2317 PBS Masterpiece Theatre/Merchant of Venice

Does anybody know when this will be on TV in the bay area.....

Monday night was Lear.....

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Crosby <
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Date:           Wednesday, 10 Oct 2001 20:24:22 -0500
Subject: 12.2317 PBS Masterpiece Theatre/Merchant of Venice
Comment:        RE: SHK 12.2317 PBS Masterpiece Theatre/Merchant of Venice

I can't identify the song by name, but here is what Trevor Nunn had to
say about it in the interview on the PBS website:

"What is the very haunting song that Jessica sings?

It's a song in Hebrew that her father has taught her. At the time when
we first hear it she's full of rebellion, as teenagers are. She wants to
be outside her father's influence. By the end of the play, she realizes
what has happened to her father and what has happened to her. She
realizes that people continue to see her as alien and even joke about
her alien nature, and she feels very much an outsider. She sings that
song again in Hebrew because that is her identity, and she is not going
to masquerade in a different identity ever again."

I hope someone else knows the precise info.

Dave

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