Merchant of Venice in a Las Vegas Setting
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0192 Friday, 5 August 2011
From: Thomas Hunter <
Date: August 4, 2011 5:47:48 PM EDT
Subject: Re: Merchant of Venice in a Las Vegas Setting
Perhaps the following e-mail text is relevant and of interest to this thread. It was sent 07-30-2011 to Patrick Stewart. Personal references have been removed. One further note. A post in this thread falls back on a common reaction to the play as a “most bewildering puzzling ‘comedy.’” My experience has been that careful, detail readings over the past six years combined with research to answer the surprising questions which came up during the reflection which inevitably accompanied those readings have revealed a purpose and a structure to the play of sublime and elegant simplicity. But don’t get me started. I am well into a book-length study to explain what I mean and how a play meant to correct human deficiencies such as hatred, prejudice, and violence came to be used (quite ironically) to put butts in the seats of theaters for 400 years by appealing to the same human frailty which it sought to solve. Here is the e-mail to Mr. Stewart:
When last I spoke with you in November of 2006 in Ann Arbor, you were planning to approach a Las Vegas casino owner . . . about producing The Merchant of Venice in a Vegas environment. The problem was to overcome the play’s anti-Semitic history which would be off-putting to many Vegas casino owners.
I see by this morning’s New York Times that you have accomplished this goal, or at least some of it. You have the Vegas setting, but it is located in Stratford by The Royal Shakespeare Company.
You originally sought me out because the paper I was presenting to a conference in Ann Arbor [during the RSC’s residence there] addressed the anti-Semitism issue. My research indicated that the original play was anything but anti-Semitic, that it was a humanist allegory dramatizing vicious and violent anti-Semitism so as to make audience and readers aware of it, demonstrating its tragic effect on one of its Jewish victims, and finally presenting a case for world harmony among all of humankind. My continuing research since then has done nothing but support this view while making connections between the play and Renaissance humanism, Jewish history, and Judaism that have never been made before but which are well documented.
I never heard from you after sending you a copy of my presentation . . . I assumed that you had dropped the project. [The e-mail goes on to express my disappointment in the superficiality of the RSC’s Vegas MOV as reported by Ben Brantley, reviewer for the Times.] . . . My work goes on and will be published. In the mean time, a most precious opportunity has been squandered. . . .
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