Art is a reflection of reality, and so it must also be true that art is a mode for the production of reality’s darker features of racism, intolerance and prejudice. “The Merchant of Venice” and the characterization of Shylock reminds us all of the darker truths of the Elizabethan era, praised for its contributions to the arts that were built upon the foundations of lingering social conflicts and hierarchical supremacies. That Shakespeare constructed a villain in a very specific religious and racial group stands alone as a evidence to the existing social divides in Elizabethan England. That he did so after knowing few, if any, Jewish people at all is telling of a darker and more striking truth about the basis of prejudice that has remained present in the play throughout history. Continue reading
Sitting leisurely in my apartment yesterday evening, I was stirred by the vibration of a NYTs alert, flashing on my phone’s screen: “Eric Garner Case Is Settled by New York City for $5.9 Million.” A year ago, Eric Garner was interrogated for selling single cigarettes on a street corner in Staten Island. Attempting to subdue Garner in the course of an arrest, officer Daniel Pantaleo used an illegal chokehold that resulted in Garner’s death. His fateful last words, “I can’t breathe,” were captured on video and motivated protests across the country. Four hundred years after its publication, Shylock’s alienated ending in The Merchant of Venice provokes a compelling stream of analysis. Continue reading
It is difficult to know whether it was Shakespeare’s intent to make his character Shylock in The Merchant of Venice a sympathetic character or a Jewish villain to satisfy an anti-Semitic audience. Clues to this debate can be gathered if we carefully consider Shakespeare’s treatment of Shylock in the courtroom. A conflict of mercy vs. vengeance and between the spirit and letter of the law become apparent in the courtroom scene of Act IV. Mercy is a central theme to both Christianity and Judaism and is used by Shakespeare to make larger claims about such religions. Continue reading
What do I mean when I call you “gentle”? Is it out of affection, because you are courteous and polite? Do I consider you a person of distinction? Or am I reflecting on the character of your birth?
And if I am, is it in derision, praise or with the intent of reinventing you?
Al Pacino portrays Shylock in three different settings in the twenty-first century: once in the film The Merchant of Venice (2004), once through the theatrical program Shakespeare In The Park (2010), and once on Broadway in The Merchant of Venice (2010). While there are many interpretations on the Shylock character from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, it is less common to have one actor performing the same character in different medias. Pacino’s portrayals of Shylock illuminate not only the complexities of this multifaceted character, but also elaborate on a common Shakespearean controversy; is Shylock a sympathetic character or one imbedded in the anti-semitic culture of Shakespeare’s Venice?