Jacob Cohen in Habima’s The Merchant of Venice. Photograph: Tristram Kenton, The Guardian.
Since the 1800s, Israel and Palestine have been embroiled in a bitter war over land, water, religion, and the fight for their own national and personal identity to be recognised. In 2012, these two countries had an additional conflict on their minds: the performance of a Shakespeare play, The Merchant of Venice, and the problematic representation of Shylock, the displaced Jew.
Ah, Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure — it’s no wonder Shakespearean scholars consider it a “problem play” (JStor – Measure for Measure and Elizabethan Comedy). Both the Duke and Isabella have some obvious moral issues that raise questions that need to be answered when deciding how the play is to be performed.
Troilus and Cressida 1968
Royal Shakespeare Company- Some productions deliver the prologue with an imposing, anonymous warrior
The most noteworthy aspect of Troilus and Cressida’s early performance history is that it was barely performed, if at all. Even when introduced in the second edition of the first quarto, the preface vaunts the play as entertainment unsoiled by “the palms of the vulgar”, a production only existing as “a birth of your brain”. From its very inception, the play’s distinction seemed to be its resistance to staging, even its popular obscurity. As though to honor this prefatory omen, the play vanished from the stage afterwards for three hundred years. Between 1609 and 1907, no documented evidence of an English performance survives. So when the neo-Shakespeare upsurge of the 20th century plumbed the Shakespearean canon for material, Shakespeare’s untested Troilus and Cressida appeared, with plenty of directorial ruts and little precedent. The variety of approaches to the prologue alone attests to the uncertain challenge of stage performance without precedent– particularly this dodgy, gritty marvel of tale.