Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Merchant of Venice

For a Shakespeare play, this wasn't half bad. Especially if you dislike Jews. It's one of the most anti-Semitic works I've ever read. And by read, I mean I read along while I watched the movie. But I didn't watch the movie with Al Pacino as the Jew, and that was a mistake I think. It's on my list of things to watch eventually.

So the play is all Shakespeare-like and difficult to read. The language is confusing and poetic. But the story is good - full of dramatic plot devices. When suitors show up to try and woo Portia, they have to choose one of three chests - one is gold, one is silver and the other is lead. Anyone who has seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade knows you have to pick the lead chest. Duh. Oh wait, Shakespeare was before Harrison Ford. Oh well. You get the point.

Here's a fun fact: I didn't know that the derogatory term "Shylock" came from this play. I knew what it meant and how it was an insult, but I didn't know that term existed because Shylock was the name of the Jew in this play who was greedy and tried to take a pound of flesh from someone who didn't pay back a loan on time. Way to go, Shakespeare, for encouraging and promoting stereotypes! Well, in his defense it was 400 years ago and there were no Jews in England because they had all been banished. As someone in my class yesterday pointed out, that would be like writing a story that included a stereotypical terrorist today.

I would never recommend reading a Shakespeare play. Don't get me wrong, I don't completely dislike Shakespeare. He's contributed valuable material to the world. I just don't want to read him. As Professor Gentry so rightly said: "Shakespeare was never meant to be read. It was meant to be acted out." Watch the movie - I bet Al Pacino makes a brilliant Shylock.


  1. >>As Professor Gentry so rightly said: "Shakespeare was never meant to be read. It was meant to be acted out."

    I've heard this repeated time and again too, but there's evidence that it's incorrect. Yes, absolutely the plays were meant to be acted out, but it doesn't quite end there.

    The first complete collection of his plays, the First Folio, although published after Shakespeare's death, contained a preface by 2 of Shakespeare's long-time collaborators. The preface states, "Read him therefore, and again, and again." Given that during his lifetime Shakespeare published narrative poems and sonnets, it's a safe inference that he wanted the plays to not only be performed, but read too.

  2. But why would he write them as plays, and not in some other form? Obviously he wanted sonnets and poems read.

    I'm sure it would make him feel good that his plays are read, and maybe he expected that it would probably happen. But the reason you write a play is so that someone will stage the production.

    Some language is more enjoyable and meaningful in the written form, and other language is more appreciated if spoken in just the right way.

  3. >>But why would he write them as plays, and not in some other form?

    He wrote them as plays b/c there was a much larger market for drama as opposed to prose. Remember that most people at the time were illiterate. Thus, if he wanted to make money, plays were the thing.

  4. That's a very good point. I know almost nothing about him. I managed to get a degree in English (British)Literature and never take a Shakespeare class (a revelation of the state of private education in New York), so clearly I'm no authority.

    I told you I'm not any good at this debate thing - not even in writing.