The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0217  Tuesday, 2 February 2005

[1]     From:   John Mahon <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Monday, 31 Jan 2005 18:28:23 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.0198 Al Pacino in "Merchant of Venice"

[2]     From:   Florence Amit <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 02 Feb 2005 16:41:30 +0200
        Subj:   Al Pachino thread

From:           John Mahon <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 31 Jan 2005 18:28:23 -0500
Subject: 16.0198 Al Pacino in "Merchant of Venice"
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.0198 Al Pacino in "Merchant of Venice"

Dear Friends,

Thanks to Stephen Dobbin, John Drakakis, and others for help with the
ending of the new film.  I saw it for a second time yesterday and it
does, indeed, end in the way we all remembered.  The Teacher's Guide
from Sony Pictures simply gets its own film wrong!

John Mahon

From:           Florence Amit <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 02 Feb 2005 16:41:30 +0200
Subject:        Al Pachino thread

Dear Forum members,

I feel obliged to respond to this latest manifestation of the totally

Merchant of Venice. Considering the many precedents for the Radford
production, as I understand it to be, I do not make a real distinction
over this particular "Punch and Judy" showing. It is, no doubt as good
as most and better than some. Indeed if I were to choose the stupid,
damaged character that is supposed to be Shylock I might have decided on
Al Pachino as a perfect choice. But that is not Shylock and it is not
the play that Shakespeare wrote.

Shakespeare showed a deep understanding of Lutheranism in Hamlet; of
Catholicism in Measure for Measure; the plight of an assimilated Muslim
in Othello and in The Merchant of Venice, the means by which Jews and
crypto Jews managed to escape with some of their wealth in tact to a
place of sanctuary where they could live a pleasant life. In Italy they
were under threat of Ghetto enclosure, property confiscation, expulsion
- and worse, at Ancona.

Shakespeare wrote his play mainly in two languages, English and Hebrew
with some French for Launcelet Gabbo. It is beautifully worked out and
provides a comical satire that is unmatchable. Here is a bit of analysis
from the Lead Casket   that I think indicate his preferences

You that choose not by the view
Chance as fair, and choose as true
Since this fortune falls to you
Be content and seek no new,
If you be well pleased with this,
And hold your fortune for your bliss
Turn you where your lady is
And claime her with a loving kiss (III, ii 131-138)

Let Bassanio's imaged "lady" be a metaphor for the true essence of
Shakespeare's play. The poem confirms that: he who does not seek truth
by mere appearance, "not by the view" accepted by the generality, which
for a playwright implies his ostensible WORDS - has as viable an
opportunity for exposing truth as he who would adhere to a regular,
English language "view". (This would pertain, beyond the usual bias, to
the Hebrew words that are so frequently embedded in the text.)  While
for the case at hand, "fortune", meaning the play's subtle progression,
operates for the advocate of those less conspicuous set of conventions:
Bassanio's "paleness" (Heb. PaeL - NeSS  : works a miracle) over the
usual "eloquence." (Heb. E-Lou Ki Ne-Se: as if it is so done).  (III ii,

However, common sense will get the reader very far even if Hebrew is not
accessible.    I insert another excerpt from my work to show how one
should apply common sense.

If Antonio were to agree to the pact with Shylock, it had to be made to
appear a harmless agreement, a 'merry bond' (I, 111,169): (S. J. Schoenfeld)

This is a prime incursion of critical misreading. For there was nothing
in the world that would have made a local zealot trust a Jew during the
Counter Reformation. Antonio's deficient appreciation of the Laban
story, his choosing instead to be regarded as persecutor and "enemy",
proves his disrespect. That a Jew would be so naive as to believe that
by flattery he could alter such a time honored, church sanctioned
proclivity and at the same time proclaim an open threat of violence is
the illogical reading which characterizes the fallacious play that we
see on the boards. Not only would it be unlikely that Shylock suppose he
could work the magic of approval by such means, but the forfeiture
clause should cancel out any such conclusion even by his enemies.
Antonio's assent is because he felt secure and because, at that time,
before his edification, he was vain. His confidence of superior status
allows him to go along with Shylock's would be devious assault and his
'flattery'. He is convinced that such a 'low' adversary might try such
tactics but never achieve by them. So Antonio, after gaining the lavish
loan for his protege, amuses himself with irony: There is much kindness
in the Jew (I, iii, 149) - for 'how could there be real danger for a
Venetian in Venice from a Jew?

Jonathon Friedland and all critics who superficially evaluate Shylock as
an uncompromisingly evil character, rather than a man of virtue in
disguise mistake Shakespeare and they are at odds with any possible
cohesion for presenting an intelligent Shakespearean drama. My
alternative reading is that in order to tempt the Duke to accept his
case, Shylock's strategy: his bait to catch a fish 'with all' (as
proposed by Bassanio) demanded that he parade the elements that we see
exaggerated.  Since Antonio did not deign to understand Shylock's
initial offer of collaboration, brought forward with the Laban
reference, for an interim period he is reduced to actually believing
that he is the hapless dupe - contrived by the Jewish party for a lure.
The audience complies and he has become their woeful "good man" in
perpetuity. In contrast, according to my corrective reading, Antonio
finally does comprehend why he has been singled out to be vexed. He
voluntarily transforms his mission into an act of honor, helps the Jews
and is amply compensated for his inconvenience.

Lately the matter of Portia's use of the word "complexion" has been
debated. She does merely repeat Morocco's own terminology - but with
added significance of differentiation. After all she is in fact seeking
a Jewish husband. Color for Shakespeare could mean any hue - including
gold, the color of Morocco's choice of casket. Portia is saying that she
does not like the manner by which Morocco distinguishes the world, as
she did not for many other suitors.

Florence Amit

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