Saturday, January 14, 2006
The Merchant of Venice
I just watched a dvd of The Merchant of Venice, starring Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons. It was better than I had expected. I had a copy of the play in my hand as I watched, so I know it was edited quite a bit, to replace unfamiliar words and leave out some scenes to make it shorter. But they added in some very good dramatic action, and the scenery, costumes and cinematography were excellent. The issue of anti-semitism was dealt with in a completely self-conscious way, very Hollywood-liberal. The director went out of his way to make Shylock a sympathetic character.
From just reading the play and various commentaries, I was willing to believe Shakespeare was anti-semitic; after all, he couldn't help being a product of his culture. But now I think it doesn't matter what he personally believed, because he wrote balanced accounts, with no particular ax to grind. He just wanted complex characters, a conflict and a resolution. The Merchant of Venice has all of those.
I suppose when I finish reading A Year in the Life of William Shakepeare, I should read James Shapiro's earlier book, Shakespeare and the Jews, and then I will know more about the issues brought up by The Merchant of Venice.