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Home :: Archive :: 2011 :: July ::
Merchant of Venice in a Las Vegas Setting


The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0149  Sunday, 10 July 2011

[1]  From:      Donald Bloom < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
      Date:      July 9, 2011 9:49:41 AM EDT
      Subj:      Merchant of Venice in a Las Vegas Setting

[2]  From:      Sylvia Morris < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
      Date:      July 9, 2011 10:51:52 AM EDT
      Subj:      Merchant of Venice in a Las Vegas Setting

[3]  From:      Julia Griffin < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
      Date:      July 9, 2011 5:12:25 PM EDT
      Subj:      Re: Merchant of Venice in a Las Vegas Setting


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Donald Bloom < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         July 9, 2011 9:49:41 AM EDT
Subject:      Merchant of Venice in a Las Vegas Setting

Concerning MOV:

Staging it as the "Tragedy of Shylock" makes the play incoherent, for the rest of the characters make no sense and the play becomes alternately ugly and silly. This change is appealing to directors, however, since it allows them to explore bigotry and guilt, particularly in observing that the bigotry of the bigots is unrestrained by guilt, while the guilt of those who are not bigoted, but observe the bigotry of others, is mixed with a delicious strain of smugness. This is a classic response to that kind of evil by the liberal-intellectuals who constitute most of the Shakespeare-going public.

But the play is not about either bigotry or guilt, it is about mercy (and so, also, about love, generosity, agape). The antithesis of this quality of mercy is a man motivated by hate, vengefulness, and spite (mixed with greed). As a European of the early modern period, Shakespeare naturally picked a Jew for this role, much to our late modern dismay and distaste. But, since the play is a story, not a tract, and Shakespeare was incapable of writing about characters that did not have a high degree of human complexity, he made his villain have some reason for his hate, vengefulness and spite, and thus gave him a modicum of piteousness. Unfortunately, when this quality is turned into the main theme and story of the play, the quality of mercy and what it means are jumbled up. Directors are forced to make utter junk of the climactic judgment scene, since no decent person could have the slightest sympathy for a man who insists on the death penalty for a defaulted loan payment, especially one that could be easily repaid.

The simple truth is that Shylock is a horrible villain whether he gets insulted and spat upon or not, and he is much more akin to the Nazis than to their victims.

Moreover, the main plot explores the interaction of the generosity of true friendship with the hopes, needs and joys of romantic love (the one is the practical world of commerce, the other in the fairy-tale world of the choice of caskets), the point and impact of which are totally obliterated by promoting the subplot to the dominant position and turning its meaning upside down and inside out.

The problem, of course, is generated by the fact that it is a play and people want to put it on. We can read plenty of off-hand anti-Semitism in the novels of great and justly admired authors, because in the privacy of our studies we can note its offensiveness and discount it (or not, if we find it too gross to tolerate). But as soon as you stage a play you invoke a group ritual that involves the players, the audience and the author (even one long dead) in a mutual "reading" of some part of their common humanity. It would be better not to undertake it if you don't understand more than a tenth of what is going on.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Sylvia Morris < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         July 9, 2011 10:51:52 AM EDT
Subject:      Merchant of Venice in a Las Vegas Setting

Would you like to post my blog on the RSC’s current Merchant of Venice as a follow on to the discussion about the Las Vegas setting? As you’ll see I found a lot more in it than your correspondents, especially in relation to the current controversy over Murdoch’s News International group.

http://theshakespeareblog.com/?p=390
 
All the best
Sylvia Morris
 
[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Julia Griffin < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         July 9, 2011 5:12:25 PM EDT
Subject:      Re: Merchant of Venice in a Las Vegas Setting

Having read several reviews, I would rather sacrifice many pounds of flesh than attend this production of MV; so I wonder if John Drakakis would expand on his intriguing comments re the programme.  What populist twaddle does Ferguson supply?  What commodity does Linda Levy Peck fetishize?
 
Julia Griffin

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