The cliche is true: Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be performed, not read from a book. We will be watching performances of all three of the plays that we’re reading this semester; I hope that seeing a performance will help you not only understand the plays better but also come to appreciate how much a play’s meaning is determined by performance, not by the text alone. I’ve chosen a 2004 film production of The Merchant of Venice starring Jeremy Irons as Antonio and Al Pacino as Shylock. Your assignment this week is to watch it using the link below and to post to the discussion board at the bottom of this page.
This link will prompt you to log in. Once you do, you should be taken directly to The Merchant of Venice:
Note that you can turn closed captions off or on. I find them distracting, but you may like them if they help you understand the language.
If you have any trouble with the above link, here is the homepage for Alexander Street, the digital library I’m using to get us access to Shakespeare performances. You can visit this page (also requires Le Moyne login) and search for The Merchant of Venice:
Post a comment about the 2004 production of The Merchant of Venice below. Consider answering any of the following study questions:
1. How does this production deal with The Merchant of Venice‘s anti-Semitic content? In other words, how do they present this play to a modern audience that isn’t going to bring the same sensibility as Shakespeare’s audience?
2. Were there any moments where the production changed your understanding of the play? Explain how.
3. Since Shakespeare’s plays tend to run longer than a feature-length film, film adaptations of plays usually abridge the text by shortening speeches, cutting scenes, or even changing plotlines. Do you notice this film shortening, cutting, or changing anything? If so, what difference do the alterations make?
4. Do you have comments on any other significant decision made by this production–casting, direction, editing, artistic direction, use of props, etc.? Is there something that you would have done differently?
30 thoughts on “Week 4 (Spring ’21): Merchant in Performance”
The part of the film that helped me better understand the play was when Portia and Nerissa return to Belmont after the judgement of Shylock. As Porita and Nerissa returned, Bassiano, Antonio, and Gratiano shortly returned after. As their scene unfolded about the 2 men losing the rings it helped me better understand it. It really helped me completely connect the dots between the scene in front of the Duke, the farewell scene after, and as well as the scene back in Belmont. It helped me better understand the use of the language to be acted out so well in the film. So yeah all in all I thought the movie was good and that scene in particular helped me better understand that scene.
In my opinion, whenever I read a book and then go and see the movie, the movie often leaves things out and forgets major parts, but honestly in the film adaptation of The Merchant of Venice I feel like they did a very good job on keeping track of the actual storyline and picked out great actors for the characters. Al Pacino as Shylock and Jeremy Irons as Antonio are just amazing actors and Al Pacino was a perfect foil character to Jeremy Irons. I really enjoyed how they made Antonio seem very upright and cleanly shaven, but then when they introduce Shylock he is old, sitting down and just looks like an evil person. It really seemed like the production team did an amazing job of bringing out the best in both of those characters by bringing in those two amazing actors for the job. This honestly changed my whole thought process of both characters because at first I did not really see Shylock to be like that, I honestly thought that they would be parallel characters with just different religious views but this movie changed my whole mind on that.
#2: After watching The Merchant of Venice, I feel like I have a better understanding of Nerissa’s character. Within reading the play, she often confused me because I did not know if she was converting to Christianity because she did not like her father (Shylock), if she really wanted to be Christian, or if it was because she loved Lorenzo. After watching the play, I really believe that she converted and left her father because she wanted to fit in. When she is with Lorenzo’s friends, (Antonio, Bassanio, Gratiano, Portia, Nerissa) she is often quiet and very soft spoken but you can tell that she is carefully listening to all that they have to say. I believe that Jessica still sees herself as a Jew deep down, and she will never let go of that, because it is how she identifies with herself. I think that the majority of Jessica’s act is because she feels as if she does not belong and does not fit in. She is insecure and fears being judged. She sees how her father is treated and never wants to be treated that way. As the play progresses, and Shylock becomes more hated and in the end, gets stripped of everything he has, I think that Jessica becomes guilty. The last scene of this play is very telling of this because Jessica is looking off of the balcony at Portia’s palace and seems to be in deep thought. The camera moves down and shows that she is playing with the ring that she supposedly sold for a monkey. Shylock loved this ring so dearly. I wonder if this can tie into the idea of the rings that Portia and Nerissa gave their husbands. There could be a chance that this ring represents Jessica’s unspoken loyalty to her roots (Judaism) and a symbol of her eternal distant love for her father.
Watching the production of the play helped me get a better understanding of the courtroom scene where Antonio was supposed to get a pound of his flesh taken by Shylock, but in the end Shylock ended up loosing everything. This scene was one of the longest in the play so at times it was hard for me to grasp every little detail that was going on. So watching the film definitely helped me better understand that scene and recognize everything that was going on. And I think the way they portrayed Shylock in the end getting stripped away of everything he has was a very accurate way to do it. I think it matched the play very well. In the end watching the film helped me pick up all the small details I wasn’t able to understand throughout reading the play.
The hollywood adaptation of this film seems to omit much of what makes this play a comedy. Since people in our times likely wouldn’t find the anti-semitism of the time funny, the movie portrays this issue in a much more serious tone than the play does. As an audience, we come to feel bad for Shylock where in the play they seem to make the issue of anti-semitism a light one, or one that is just normal; this way the audience can make fun of it. Since Hollywood’s adaptation gives the issue such a serious tone, which is necessary to appeal to the audiences today, the movie lacks any kind of lighthearted humor regarding Shylock’s character that was present in the play. I also found it interesting that Launcelot, who was supposed to be the clown of this play was depicted in such a dry way. His character seemed more disturbed than anything and definitely wasn’t the jaunty clown portrayed in the written play. They even cut out one of his main scenes where he plays a joke on his father.
The film adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice, deals with antisemitism in a nice way that gives modern viewers context of what is going on. The opening of the play starts with antisemitism and gives background information about how Jewish people were treated during that time period. The introduction also shows Antonio spitting on Shylock and Jewish people being attacked by Christians. I feel that the movie also gives a good depiction of Shylock as he’s not as hateable and I definitely sympathized with him. The producers make the Christians both likeable but also hateable as they feel the need to mock Shylock quite frequently. The end of the play also shows Shylock which is not in the play. In this end scene he looks miserable as he is now a Christian and has lost everything. I think the producers made smart decisions when depicting the antisemitism because it shows that no one in this play is really a good person, not even the protagonists.
I typically like visual presentations of a story plot because I am a visual learner and tend to enjoy and understand them better. When it came to reading The Merchant of Venice versus watching the incredible performance, I definitely prefer the visual aspect. My favorite character Shylock. I believe the actor they used for Shylock did a phenomenal job. Shylock was portrayed very close to the way in the book he was. An old aging evil man and a strong demeanor. I enjoyed the visual version more because I was able to see conversations and scenes between characters that made it more fun for me. A specific scene that made me understand the play more was a scene between Portia and Nerissa. The specific scene I want to comment on is when they return to Belmont. The language and passion in the scene and how engaging it was made me quickly remember how it occurred in the book. Overall, the production was well planned and acted out. I would recommend people to read and watch the play.
This movie adaptation of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice presents the antisemitic themes of this story differently than the original version. In the beginning of the movie there is text on the screen explaining the views that Christians had at this time about the Jewish people in Venice. The movie explains the widespread hatred for Jewish people at this time and shows the restrictions placed upon them. For people today, reading Shakespeare can be a challenge for those who only read his work casually. People who would read or watch his plays during his lifetime would not face this challenge as much as they are familiar with his way of writing. For readers today, it might be harder to detect certain things, such at the antisemitism towards Shylock, whereas back then it wouldn’t be difficult. It was a good idea for the people who made this movie to point out the antisemitism to the viewers in order to better ensure that they are aware of the large role antisemitism plays in this movie.
One of the most significant changes from the play to the movie was the scene where Antonio and Bassanio kissed (on the lips). At first I thought maybe that was just a Italian thing. I thought about it more and realized that this film was made for a modern English speaking audience so that kiss was put in intentionally based on our sensibilities. The director clearly wants his audience to understand that Antonio and Bassanio have a homosexual relationship. I don’t disagree with the director’s choice. Although I’m not sure what Shakespeare’s intentions for those characters were. I personally did not read it as a homosexual relationship, but I can see where the director is coming from. I think it was a good choice because it raises the stakes for the climactic “court” scene.
One scene that was added to the film that was not in the play was the scene between Portia and Old Bellario the civil doctor. It was only a few seconds but it showed that Portia did not suddenly become a scholar of the law like it is in the play. I think in the play we are meant to understand that Portia was coached by her cousin, the law doctor, but it never actually says that she is. I think that was a smart scene to add to the film that made a lot of sense.
Watching the play the merchant of Venice be acted out helped me understand Bassanios and Antonios relationship better. While reading the play I felt like I missed their relationship in terms of actually being together. Watching this version and seeing them kiss did make me realize they did actually like eachother but it was just something I had missed during actually reading it. Watching it really does giver a better understanding of the play and this play does a good job at telling this story.
While watching the movie “The Merchant Of Venice” as compared to reading the book, I favor the movie much more. In the book Shakespeare uses words wisely to throw his point across with can make reading and understanding a passage difficult. While reading the book I understood that Antonio and Bassanio were close, what I failed to understand in the book is that they are far more then friends. I assumed that during these times that two men who showed such a relationship would face a lot of legal trouble and therefor its written about less commonly. For example in the movie the scene with Antonio and Bassaino kissing, it did help me put the book into a better understanding on the topic of there relations with one another. What tied everything together in the movie is the trial scene and there for I do think the director did a good job tying everything in. I didn’t think the movie was going to be so closely related to the book because thats usually the case but I’m glad it was as it helped me to understand everything.
This production had helped me understand more about how the character looked which I feel they did a great job showing how Shylock was described as an evil which they were able to show that through his clothing and I didn’t think on how old Shylock was actually and I couldn’t visualize it clearly until I saw him. I was able to see more of his hatred towards Antonio and why he was so passionate about getting revenge. Since the play was a little hard for me to understand it made it hard to visualize every single thing but when I saw the film I was able to understand each scene better. Another moment that helped me understand the play was when Portia and Nerissa were dressed as men and went to help Antonio I was able to see how that scene was played out and the emotions that each character was feeling when Shylock was going to get a pound of flesh of Antonio’s body. When reading the play I didn’t really think of the relationship between Antonio and Bassanio that much until seeing the film I saw that their relationship was more than just friendship and that there was a very strong bond between them and I feel that the reason Antonio was sad was that he had to see Bassaino leave in order to be with Portia.
Seeing The Merchant of Venice acted out in production form really helped me to get a better understanding of the characters since I learn best through visuals. I think that Bassanio being portrayed as a young man with long hair helped to show that he is concerned with outward appearances and takes the time to maintain his looks. A couple of the scenes with Portia furthered my understanding of her as a character in that she is quite clever and can be very manipulative to get what she wants. An example of this would be the scene right after the “trial” scene, where Portia gets mad at Bassanio for giving away the ring that she gave to him and tricks him into thinking that she slept with the doctor to get the ring back, but eventually, she reveals that she was in fact the doctor the whole time. It was interesting to actually see this scene acted out because I was able to watch Portia’s face during the scene and notice how smug she seemed to be since she had total control over the situation and was able to manipulate the other characters. I believe that the film did a great job of portraying the characters and really brought them to life.
One change between the movie and the play is a series of additional scenes not in the play that were added to the beginning of the movie. This includes Antonio spitting on Shylock, which makes it easier for a modern audience to quickly understand the relationship between Antonio and Shylock. While this is an additional scene, adding it actually saves time later on in the movie, as less time is needed to explain Antonio’s and Venice’s hatred of Jewish people. Another change is that in the play we never learn why Antonio is sad, but in the movie Antonio is revealed to have a relationship with Bassanio, something that is at best only hinted at in the play. Furthermore, in the movie Launcelot does not trick his father, probably because a modern audience would not find it funny. In the movie, Portia seems somewhat less racist to the Prince of Morocco. And finally, Shylock seems more sympathetic in the movie and is portrayed clearly as the victim.
1. To deal with The Merchant of Venice’s anti-Semitic conent, they used subtitles at the beginning before the play what was happening. In the beginning it explained how Jews were not allowed to own property, how they were forced to live in the ghetto and how there was intolerance of Jews in Venice. They also had the Jews wear red hats in the movie to distinctly point them out and make them different from everyone else.
2. The production changed my understanding of the play in certain scenes. For example, I noticed more of the relationship between Bassanio and Antonio in their facial expressions and how they talk to each other. Characteristics like this were hard to notice and visualize in the play without it being acted out. Also, in the casket scene, I noticed that there were alot of other people present and that the caskets were very small. I had pictured this scene to be between Portia and each of her choices and I also pictured the caskets to be bigger.
3. I noticed that the clown was taken out of a scene to make the production shorter. I also noticed that a lot of the speeches were taken out of the casket scenes, where each person described why they chose the casket they chose.
4. To make a comment on the overall production, I think that I pictured Portia to be more extravagant. I think that they could have shown this better by giving her more jewels and more extravagant hair, to make her resemble the character that was described in the play. I also didn’t see so much of a difference between Venice and Belmont, besides the size of Portia’s house. I also think that when Shylock made the declaration for a piece of Antonio’s flesh, it should have been said in a harsh tone, instead he said it very calmly in the film.
For the use of props, I thought the portrait of Portia’s father (I assume it is her father) located right above the three caskets was a great addition to the idea of how, regardless of whether Portia’s father is dead or alive, she was still tied down and under control by a parental authority in who she marries.
The conversation where Shylock meets with Bassanio and Antonio to draft up the bond gave me a little shock. In class, we discussed how one might have Shylock’s character portray himself during this scene. When Shylock speaks of the deal of Antonio giving up one pound of flesh, I had some expectation of him saying this sarcastically, not with a straight face (even though I knew that Shylock means it literally, not figuratively). To (some extent) my surprise, Antonio laughed it off as a joke, but Bassanio, along with Shylock, treated it as no laughing matter.
When seeing Bassanio’s character for the first time, his character did not give off the impression that he was living beyond his means. I first looked at his clothing since it is one of the very first things an audience sees on a character. He was dressed normally as any other character (honestly, I thought Antonio was more dressed up than him). It wasn’t until later in the play, when he traveled to Belmont and presented himself to Portia, that the audience can see his luxurious clothing.
Lastly, the court/trial scene kept me on my toes because I honestly thought the plot would derail from the original plot and that Shylock would take his pound of flesh. There was the build-up of anxiety, tension, and suspension when seeing Shylock getting ready to take his bond. When reading the play, I can not necessarily depict how the characters feel or what they are doing, whereas, in the play, the audience can see the change in expression and behavior when Shylock was on the brink of cutting Antonio with his knife and when Shylock was forced to fall to his knees and beg the Duke for mercy.
Overall, I found this production to be extremely satisfying to watch. Firstly, the casting was great, and the actors really brought the characters to life. I found myself watching with anticipation. I didn’t honestly understand the role of gratiano when reading the script, but watching the performance I could really see how mischievous and short sighted he is. In terms of cutting parts of the play, I noticed Lancelot’s comedic roles were reduced(on a side note, was he one of the pirates in the pirates of the Caribbean? The one with the wood eye?) I’m assuming it’s because the harsh pranks he plays would not be received well by the audience. But the most impactful scene I believe was the extra bit of info we get with Jessica at the end. She never sold the ring for the monkey, which shows that she does still love and respect her father. Secondly it changes the true antagonist. It’s my belief that this movie frames both Tybalt and his baseless rumors as the turning point of the production. I believe this because he’s the one who inflamed Shylock’s fire, and encouraged him down the path of violence. Before Shylock has his conversation with Tybalt he is depressed and heartbroken. Even before Jessica ran away, Shylock was portrayed as a man using what little means and faith he had to make his own standing, and was constantly shamed for it. Yet he remains calm and cool heading in front of the men who hate him. The first time we really see him act with anger is after Tybalt spreads the rumor about Jessica and amplifies Shylock’s broken feelings. To me this shows that if not for the conversation they had, Shylock may not have tried to take Antonio’s flesh. But rather gone for the money as his form of revenge, because up until this point, Shylock has been very meticulous in the way he goes about business. And seeing how levelheaded he was at the beginning of the play, it would not be out of character for him to try and recoup the money his daughter stole.
(As for the argument that he planned to take Antonio’s flesh all along, I don’t believe that for a second. I think he put that clause in because he didn’t trust Antonio and Bassanio to pay him back at all. I would not be surprised if they used the Christian idea of “mercy” to either give them more time to pay it off, or wipe the debt clean. I think it was originally just a threat to make sure they pay)
I got a better understanding of the courtroom scene at the courthouse scene. When Shylock is about to get the pound of flesh from Antonio. But everything got taken away from him when Porica was crossing dressing like a lawyer and said that the only way that Shylock could get the pound of flesh is by not drawing Christian blood.
One scene that I particularly liked in the movie that also helped me to better understand the scene from the play was when Antonio and Shylock were at the courthouse. In this scene we see Shylock become very emotional as he loses everything he values. Since Shylock is unable to remove the pound of flesh with the guarantee of not taking any of Antonio’s blood, he settles for 3 times the sum of the original bond. But, Portia tells him that the original bond is no longer an option and he now faces penalty for threatening the life of a Venetian. This penalty led to Shylock giving up half of his property to the state, and the other half to Antonio. Not only does Shylock lose his property, but he has to beg for mercy which in turn allows him to keep his property by instead paying a fine to the Duke. We see the most emotion from Shylock when Antonio makes him an offer to convert to christianity to in return keep his estate. To this offer Shylock quietly mumbles “I am contented”. At this part of the scene Shylock is on his knees with his head bowed down as he is very upset with his losses, most importantly his religion.
I think that the film adaption of The Merchant of Venice does a very good job of handling the anti-Semitic content of the play. Instead of just glossing over it, the movie turns it into a lesson for the viewer. As opposed to displaying the view of Jews as a comedy, a more dramatic approach is used instead. A key use of this method is providing context in the very beginning about the harsh way that Jews were treated in that time period. While a modern reader of written play would likely still be sympathetic to the way that Shylock is treated, the film definitely drives that point home even more. The focus is much more centered on Shylock in the film adaption, emphasizing his anguish over the course of the story even more so than the written play. I think that turning the story into a drama rather than a comedy is a better artistic approach to the content of the plot.
I think that the film did a great job at adapting this play for a modern audience. More specifically, the ending in which Shylock is punished by the taking away of his wealth and religion was not changed but was clearly not intended to be comedic. Original audience members of this play would not have felt any sympathy for Shylock in this moment and likely would have laughed at him, but using music, camera angles, tone, and facial expressions, the film makes this scene more heartbreaking and raw than comedic. I believe that if the film had handled this scene any other way, they would have received extreme backlash. By not avoiding the anti-Semitic language but painting Shylock in a more sympathetic light, the film becomes more of a tragedy than a comedy.
One thing that caught my interest was the emphasize on Jews wearing a red hat. The very beginning of the movie, the audience was made aware of the distinction between the Jews and the Christians. I think that the director or whoever chose to use “red hats” to symbolize those that are Jews, was using this to show the difference throughout the story on was that religion was a huge factor in this play. Also, I noticed that during the trials that Shylock is not wearing a red hat. That can symbolize in Shylock using his strength to go against the Christians, like Antonio whom he does loses to.
Another interesting thing I found interesting was the age difference between Bassanio and Antonio. If I would have created this play to watch I would have made them closer to age versus having Antonio being much older looking than Bassanio. Thought that was a strange choice of casting.
Actually being able to watch the play helped me to understand the relationship between Bassanio and Antonio. While reading the book I didn’t really see a homoerotic relationship between the two of them, but after watching this film and seeing how they act with each other, I sense a closer connection between the two of them. The scene in which they kiss just seems so much more intimate than what you would expect for their relationship. Also, just the facial expressions and visual cues between the two makes it obvious that there’s something more between them.
Watching this rendition of the Merchant of Venice helped me to better understand many scenes and many themes, but specifically, it helped me to comprehend the antisemitism projected towards Shylock by much of the cast. In our first discussion, I talked about Shakespeare’s ability to write a sensitive subject in a way that makes readers uncomfortable due to its accuracy and its severity, and this film does a great job of grasping onto this theme as well. Shylock inherits many of the Jewish stereotypes of the time period not only through the script and the character’s dialogue but through the suggested mannerisms of the character as portrayed by the actor as well. When delivering lines about his passion for money and wealth, the actor does a good job of making viewers believe that Shylock’s main passion is truly his own wealth, and sometimes this passion overshadows his love even for his own daughter. The actor also does a great job of portraying the emotion suggested in the text surround Shylock’s hatred for the Christians in the play. This is first made evident when Shylock is exclaiming over his newfound knowledge that Jessica is in love with Lorenzo — who is a Christian. There are many other examples of the actor’s mannerisms becoming one and the same as Shylock’s, but this scene stood out to me more than some others. Overall, I think that the casting played an important role in reaching the desired height of the antisemitism portrayed in the Merchant of Venice film.
I thought that the actors/director chose an interesting route to depict the play. It was much more of a serious drama contrary to the play which had some levity in it because of its comedic aspect. The character Launcelot, who was supposed to be basically the clown of the play was kind of stripped of his comedic value and appeared more troubled instead. Overall the movie had a darker tone and somber mood and it brought a much heavier weight to the major themes of the play. Instead of making caricatures out of the serious matters to draw attention to them, they emphasized the gravity of them with the opposite approach showing it in a dark context.
I think the production of “The Merchant of Venice” was very good. It didn’t change my understanding…I think it helped me understand the play better. They chose excellent actors and how they displayed the play was good. I was never bored with it! But, specifically, the relationship with Antonio and Bassanio was hard to understand while reading but with the film it was much easier to understand the type of relationship they had!
To start off I want to say that I really enjoyed the movie adaptation of “The Merchant of Venice”. Usually there are extreme differences between the movie and the actual book/play it’s based off of, but in my opinion there weren’t that many differences and the play was performed tastefully. I don’t think there could be a better cast than the one casted for this movie. On that note, one thing I did want to point out that helped me see things more clearly and finally make up my mind on the nature of Bassanio and Antonio’s relationship was at the beginning when Bassanio kissed Antonio. When I first read the play, I thought that their relationship was just a strong bromance and nothing more, even when some parts hinted at it being something more. But when Bassanio kissed Antonio in the movie that really just pushed me in the direction of there being something more under the surface of their friendship. Especially when you find out that the kiss wasn’t really scripted and was ultimately thrown in because the actor that played Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes) felt as if their relationship was more than a friendship or bromance when he had read the play.
When retelling a classic story/film/play, one must do so carefully. When stories are written and contain offensive content, they need to be looked at under a careful lens. You have to look at when they were made and the socio-economic state of things in the country of origin. The Merchant of Venice is clearly anti-Semitic. It creates a caricature of Jewish people depicting them as money-hungry above all else. Shylock demands a pound of flesh, should Bassanio not pay him back. He’s obsessed. Throughout the play, reminders that it was written during a much different time are a bit jarring. In the movie, however, it seems much more…serious. Not the flamboyant yet normal affair it’s treated as in the play. In the film, it’s treated as an abhorrent act that probably occurs every day, and it is certainly played up to inflate the shock factor. At the beginning of the movie, there is background and context, explaining the situation the Jewish people are in. Antonio spits n Shylock and Christian attack Jewish people. The scene in which Bassanio asks Shylock for help stands out to me because when they are cutting up a piece of meat, Shylock bringing his fingers to his lips every so often to taste, and it evokes a multitude of different emotions. And on top of things, Al Pacino, a Sicilian man, plays Shylock, who is Jewish.
This film’s adaptation of “The Merchant of Venice” story made me enjoy the story much more, because of how well this film was executed. The film’s production gave me a further understanding of how poorly Jewish people were treated in Shakespeare’s time with the continuous anti-semitic actions thrown at Shylock. For example the visual of Shylock being spat at was much stronger than just reading the play in how Jewish people were thought of as and treated.
After watching the movie certain things became more clear to me that I did not understand or had a hard time visualizing from reading the play. The first thing I noticed was how much older Shylock was than what I had initially thought. The director did a very nice job showing his age and gave him a more evil appearance than what the play gave us. The courtroom scene also became much easier to visualize and understand everything that happened in the play. The last major thing I picked up on was the relationships between certain characters, particularly Bassanio and Antonio.