Saturday, October 22, 2011

The entree of Shylock (but no pork)

Is Shylock such an antagonist?
The next part of my fragmented analysis of The Merchant of Venice was going to be about the use and importance of oaths in this play.  However, there's not as much there as I originally thought, so I'll just finish up with interesting depictions of Shylock in the BBC version, so I'll focus a little more on the video presentation.  Sadly my technical skills haven't leveled up enough to embed the clip of the video I wanted to put here, but at the end of Act III Scene I, Shylock speaks with his Jewish friend Tubal about the turn of events concerning his lost daughter and money.  The main action that caught my attention was at the end of the dialogue, where Shylock rends his coat.  Having a bit of Old Testament knowledge, and doing a little standard Google/Wikipedia searching, I was reminded that rending one's clothes is a normal act in Jewish culture upon hearing the death of a loved one.  Shylock's daughter Jessica basically eloped with a Christian, which according to this adaptation is her death to him, probably in a spiritual way along with the fact that the religious differences between Jews and Christians weren't easily or even realistically settled.

Shylock rending his garment
The depiction of Shylock throughout this version is at times up to interpretation, but other times he's just the stereotypical stingy Jew.  I haven't seen the full Al Pacino 2004 rendition of The Merchant of Venice, but the Shylock he shows is one with more passion, which I believe could be seen as a response to past Antisemitism by those before us.  The BBC version isn't terribly old, but Shylock is depicted as an obvious antagonist in parts.  For example, in contrast to the Al Pacino clip of Shylock's monologue, here Salanio and Salarino just laugh at him the entire time until he gets to his words about revenge.  They really don't take him seriously at all, and I'm not going to lie, I was very much indignant the entire time I watched it.  While I'm not a follower of Judaism, the entire time they were laughing at him, I wanted to tell them to shut up and let him finish what he was saying.  I don't know if the producer of that version was even thinking about who they might be hating on when filming that scene.  I could be just taking more offense than he meant, but I had a hard time picking the Christian side after seeing him get picked on.

It makes me wonder, why did Shakespeare choose to write this play?  Jews weren't allowed in England during his lifetime, so why this?  Was he going for exotic factor, like he does in other plays?  Or was he bringing up religious issues of his day?


  1. Jewish people weren't allowed in England during Shakespeare's time? That's crazy. I wonder then if the common person would have understood the rending of the garments too, or how they knew about culture and traditions of the Jewish culture.

  2. This post was interesting to me, especially in light of your last post about the Christian symbolism. Shakespeare seems to show here that human relationships are complicated and diverse, and it's often hard to point to just one person as the "bad guy". Mason, that is crazy, I didn't know that either. I have no idea if the common person would have known, but Shakespeare certainly would have (he makes too many biblical allusions not to at least be familiar with something like that).