The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1524 Thursday, 14 June 2001
Date: Friday, 15 Jun 2001 13:36:51 +0100 (BST)
Subject: Patrick Stewart as Shylock
This will not be the first time Patrick Stewart has played Shylock. He
played it for the RSC at Stratford Upon Avon in a production directed by
John Barton at The Other Place, in the days when that theatre was little
more than a tin shed. This was probably the 1979/80 season when he also
played Oberon and, I think, Enobarbus in Peter Brook's production of A &
I was an assistant stage manager at Stratford that year. I wasn't on
that production but I did get to see it many times and it remains my
'touchstone' MOV production. There are few pleasures so magical as
hearing Shakespeare's verse freed from the imposition of having to be
projected into a huge auditorium.
My especial memory is of Act 5. The tone was set in the scene before,
when Portia says:
.........................we'll away tonight,
And be a day before our husbands... home.
putting a wealth of longing and relief into that last word which she
echoed it again with:
That light we see is burning in MY hall.
almost on the verge of tears
The 'music of the house' was young Gobbo on guitar/lute with everyone
else joining in with voices; a sort of Elizabethan, Edwardian, 1970's
summer night's garden party, with moonlight, candles, a little too much
wine and everybody staring into the flames as they harmonised their
favourite, slightly melancholy songs.
At the very end was a typical Barton touch: when Nerissa gave Jessica
the 'deed of gift' Jessica had no idea what to make of it, where it came
from, whether it represented a gift and forgiveness, or whether it had
been forced from Shylock. Everyone exited in high romantic spirits,
leaving Jessica alone, staring at this piece of paper in her hands and
it was, if memory serves, Portia who had to come back, put her arm
around Jessica's shoulder and lead her off into the house.
One final thing: most people involved in this production have a fond
memory of a performance when, in the very front row i.e. inches away
from the action, on stage level and very clearly lit, an American
teacher sat with his students, an open copy of the text on his lap,
furiously and distractingly making notes. At the beginning of the second
half, the trial scene, Patrick Stewart entered, gently plucked the text
from the gentleman's hands, slipped it into the pocket of his gabardine,
and politely returned it after the final curtain call.
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