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Home :: Archive :: 2010 :: July ::
Pacino as Shylock in the Park
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0281  Monday, 12 July 2010

[1]  From:      Michael Yawney <
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     Date:      July 12, 2010 10:19:59 AM EDT
     Subj:      RE: SHK 21.0274  Pacino as Shylock in the Park
 
[2]  From:      David Basch <
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     Date:      July 12, 2010 8:58:20 AM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0274  Pacino as Shylock in the Park
 
[3]  From:      John W Kennedy <
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     Date:      July 12, 2010 5:44:20 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0274  Pacino as Shylock in the Park
 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Michael Yawney <
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Date:         July 12, 2010 10:19:59 AM EDT
Subject: 21.0274  Pacino as Shylock in the Park
Comment:      RE: SHK 21.0274  Pacino as Shylock in the Park

Thank you, Hardy for your response to Mr. Basch's letter.

Often people who approach Shakespeare strictly from a literary point of view 
seize on details in the text and assume an authorial voice. 

In seizing on Portia's "Which is the merchant here, and which the Jew?" and 
giving it one meaning, other choices are ignored. But there are other ways to 
read this line, if its context is considered. For example, this line could 
indicate that Shylock toned down his ordinary dress for the court room. It could 
be Portia's assertion that her justice is blind and does not make assumptions 
based on appearances. It could also be a cheap joke, if Shylock was intended to 
be dressed exotically. 

Or it can indicate that Shylock dresses like other Venetians.

It is a dangerous game to base an interpretation based on one line, the 
interpretation of which involves other issues of plot and character. It turns 
Shakespeare into a puzzlemaker rather than a playmaker. (As one student said to 
me, "When one character describes another, it usually says more about the 
describer than the described.")

To advocate convincingly for an interpretation, one has to find more evidence 
than a single line spoken by another character.

Michael Yawney
Assistant Professor
Department of Theatre
Florida International University

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         David Basch <
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Date:         July 12, 2010 8:58:20 AM EDT
Subject: 21.0274  Pacino as Shylock in the Park
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0274  Pacino as Shylock in the Park

Dear Hardy:

The issue you brought up in your letter addressed to me is, I think, a 
crucial one. It concerns the extent of the right of a director to 
guide interpretations of a play.

On the subject of interpretation, anyone who has closely read 
Shakespeare's lines recognizes how often what the line means varies 
from person to person. I too regard this variation of knowledge and 
sensibilities and would be entirely foolish not to acknowledge its 
existence. I note that sometimes interpretations directly conflict and 
sometimes they exist as simultaneously valid. Naturally, a director 
has the right to follow the interpretations that contribute most to 
his overall conception of what the playwright is telling. On such 
matters, both you and I will agree.

However, when Shakespeare's dialogue specifically tells something 
about a character, it becomes the bedrock to be confronted and around 
which the play must unfold. In the courtroom scene, Portia 
specifically asks Which is the Jew and which the Christian. Sure, 
director Sullivan in his NY production can ignore what the line tells 
about the action of the play but then he stops giving his audience 
Shakespeare's play but gives his own. I and many others prefer to stay 
with what the playwright tells. You may call that a "Talmudic" 
approach for attempting to grapple with the specifics of the line but, 
in this case, I believe it is the proper approach that is shared by 
many others. This must be if we are to remain true to the playwright's 
vision and understand his play as he conceived it.

I would point out that the issue that Portia's question raises is not 
my own idea but is one that is brought forward by many respectable 
critics.  Ironically, most of these critics are often disturbed that 
the thrust of what the line tells has been ignored by the director. So 
I am hardly in business for myself in this.

Your suggestion notwithstanding, I don't quibble with variant settings 
of a play which place its action in other places and times since, when 
this rings true, what this demonstrates is the universality of the 
human values, feelings and emotions that the play is about. So that 
issue is not anything that divides us.

Director Sullivan may want to cast Shylock as a stereotypical Jew. But 
if the playwright is consulted through the line spoken by Portia, it 
becomes tough indeed to stage it as so. It calls for a deeper 
understanding of the action rather than the embrace of a priori 
assumptions based on stereotypes and a director's predilections that 
may have little to do with what the play is about.

I and others argue that the Merchant speaks abundantly about human values, 
kindness to the alien stranger, and the brotherhood under the skin that Morocco 
points to when he calls for the test of the "redness" of our common blood. 
Portia's question points to that common humanity and is a datum that is ignored 
at the cost of plunging the play into a confusion unworthy of Shakespeare and of 
the ideas he is actually presenting. I can't believe that you are opposed to 
that level of fidelity in the staging of a play by Shakespeare.

Respectfully yours,
David

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         John W Kennedy <
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Date:         July 12, 2010 5:44:20 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0274  Pacino as Shylock in the Park
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0274  Pacino as Shylock in the Park

David Basch <
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>The point here is that Shylock looks like everyone else. All male 
>Elizabethans wore hats in public and in private, and Shakespeare 
>means to show by this that the devilishness which others see in 
>him is brought about by their biased expectations of a Jew.

A truly heroic non-sequitur.


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