Re-imagining Shakespeare is not a new concept. Just recently, the Dartmouth College Department of Theater reimagined Romeo and Juliet as a more experimental production, setting it in a rehearsal studio and using video cameras to record the action, so that the audience watches the actors both on stage and on monitors and a large video screen. Peter Hackett, the director of the winter main stage, wanted to highlight the less-obvious more salient aspects that are not as often explored in a traditional Shakespearean manner. Challenging the conventional view, Hackett wanted the audience to ponder and be critical of what was being presented to them on stage. “It forces you as an audience not to sit back and have your expectations met. … I hope the effect is that it makes you listen to what is being said,” Hackett said.
In Mobile Carnival Theatre Company’s reimagining of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, director Brent Murrill, like Dartmouth theater director Peter Hackett, reimagined Shakespeare’s traditional setting in a more contemporary fixture.
Bassanio’s sexuality can be examined and scrutinized despite his seemingly heteronormative actions and intentions. The homoerotic undertone of Antonio and Bassanio’s relationship is easily discussed by analyzing the dedication and declarations of love by Antonio because he does not have a heterosexual romantic relationship to counteract against his love for Bassanio. Bassanio’s commitment to Portia, however, does not dictate his sexuality or establish his heterosexuality. Remembering that Bassanio’s relationships take place during a time when homosexuality is a sin and a punishable crime, the audience can translate Bassanio’s actions as the actions of one who is assumed heterosexual by societal default. His attraction to Portia is not being dismissed just because he is not heterosexual. Instead, modern audiences can discuss the idea of bisexuality or a fluid sexuality. Continue reading
‘The Three Caskets’: The Merchant Of Venice, Act III, Scene II. Robert Alexander Hillingford. Oil on Canvas.
The will of Portia’s father immediately surfaces as the central obstacle to the comedic plot-line of The Merchant of Venice. It is a clear example of a patriarch’s legal posthumous authority. Portia’s role as the central female protagonist leads most critics to focus on the restrictions that the will sets on her freedom. Much less discussed is the will’s control over Portia’s numerous male suitors.
Is Portia the hero of The Merchant of Venice? Can a woman considered a hero at all? Can Portia even be viewed positively? Julie Hankey, in the essay Victorian Portias: Shakespeare’s Borderline Heroine, reviews how the reception and subsequent performance of Portia evolved through the Victorian era from a disparaged, under appreciated woman to a valued and celebrated character.
The trial scene in The Merchant of Venice, I believe, distinctly mirrors one of Plato’s earlier dialogues, Crito, in regards to initial plotline, character relationships, and the puzzle of civic ethics raised. In Crito, Plato presents a hypothetical dialogue between Socrates, who is in prison awaiting execution, and his friend Crito, who, trying to convince Socrates to escape, offers three justifications for evading the Athenian court’s verdict. In The Merchant of Venice, Bassanio and Antonio’s other friends are akin to Crito, and Antonio, whom Bassanio describes as “one in whom the ancient Roman honor more appears than any that draws breath in Italy” (III.2.306-308), echoes Socrates. Continue reading
June 7th 1594—ten years before the first performance of The Merchant of Venice. Dr. Rodrigo Lopez, who some suspect inspired the character of Shylock, awaits his execution. His formal charge is treason against the Queen—attempt to poison, supposedly. His second, more subjective charge is obvious to the angry crowd delighting in his death. Lopez probably didn’t attempt to kill Queen Elizabeth; he did, however, convert from Judaism to Christianity—neither of which the public believes. The crowd and court ignore his pleads of innocence on both religious and criminal charges. Continue reading
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
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
by Maurycy Gottlieb in 1876; hosted on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maurycy_Gottlieb#/media/File:Shylock_e_jessica.jpeg
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?