The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.2073  Thursday, 9 December 2004

From:           John Mahon <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 8 Dec 2004 15:49:03 -0500
Subject:        Al Pacino in "The Merchant of Venice"

Dear SHAKSPEReans,

With regard to "The Merchant of Venice," Mike Jensen has performed an
invaluable service by providing the website for the UK's "Guardian"
newspaper and its review of Al Pacino's new film, which opened in the UK
last week and will open here at the end of the month.

Peter Bradshaw focuses on the play as comedy and on the characterization
of Shylock as an eloquent denouncer of hypocrisy, cruelty, and
oppression but also "a glowering and greedy malcontent whose insistence
on his pound of flesh is petty and spiteful." Bradshaw's review includes
a hot link to "More about The Merchant of Venice," where you can read
the review of the film that appeared in the "Observer" last Sunday.
Philip French's review begins with a reference to a question on
examination papers, "Is the play a Christian comedy or a Jewish tragedy?
Discuss." French then comments that "There's not much doubt about where
director-adaptor Michael Radford and his collaborators stand on this."
And I thought, remembering the Bradshaw review, that the film favors
comedy over tragedy. French saw the same film but, on the evidence of
his review, an entirely different one from that reviewed by Bradshaw:
the contrast between their reviews is astonishing.

Bradshaw provides no hint of all the "extras" employed by the director
to guarantee that we see the play as a tragedy: at the Rialto Bridge we
see a priest preaching against Jews, Antonio spitting on Shylock, and a
Jew thrown to his death in the Grand Canal. While, for Bradshaw, Shylock
"in private . . . appears to equate his daughter with money," for French
"the movie makes central the way [Shylock's] bitterness is deepened by
the treachery of his daughter, Jessica, running off with the feckless
gentile, Lorenzo." French also describes the film's epilogue, picturing
Shylock "alone, an outcast from both Jewish and Christian communities, a
door closing to exclude him.  Meanwhile, in Belmont, a guilty, sleepless
Jessica comes down to a lagoon at dawn and looks at the turquoise on her
finger . . . ." The film seems to conclude, then, on a note of
"humiliation and treachery" (French)far different from the tone
described in Bradshaw's account.

The two reviews do agree that Pacino's performance is powerful and
effective, carefully nuanced (in Bradshaw's view) between victim and
villain. We'll all be able to decide for ourselves before very long.

John Mahon
"The Shakespeare Newsletter"

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