The Merchant of Venice is fantastic!

I had the great pleasure of seeing the Merchant of Venice with my good friend Niro last Friday, courtesy of my good friend Stacie.

The Merchant of Venice is actually one of the few Shakespeare plays I had not read or seen and I was looking forward to seeing it. The play is very different from the Shakespeare plays I have seen which are either comedies with dramatic elements where everyone ends up getting married at the end, or tragedies with comic elements where everyone dies at the end.

The Merchant of Venice sits somewhere in between given its more ambiguous ending. Portia does forgive Bassanio and everyone makes amends in the end, but I was left feeling there was trouble brewing in the relationships. While the play appears anti-Semitic at first, it really depicts all characters as flawed except for Portia and Nerissa. The Merchant of Venice is probably Shakespeare’s most feminist play. While at first Portia seems bound by the wishes of her deceased father, she rapidly shows her wherewithal, independence and judgment. She is also just and righteous where none of the men have an acceptable perspective. Given all this, I wonder how the play would have been received in Shakespeare’s time.

The acting was superb. The elocution of all the actors was perfect with the minor exception of Lily Rabe, who played Portia, who did not speak loud enough towards the end of the play. Al Pacino played the part of Shylock to perfection, which is no mean feat given that every time I see him I think: “booyah!”

Go see the play!

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  • Was it on stage or the movie? Al Pacino would have played both then…
    Al Pacino had amazing performances indeed until Heat.
    Scent of a Woman is one of my favs. Won him an oscar as Best Actor in a Leading Role in 1992. If you like him in Shakespeare, you might love Looking for Richard. Anthony Hopkins in Titus (1999) might grab your interest.
    Nice design btw.

  • Not sure I agree with you. Probably because I am Jewish.

    I know there are multiple readings of the play and also know about all the debate about how antisemitic it really is, especially given when it was written. However I found that the director was pushing the antisemitic envelope to the extreme in a total overkill. I almost left the theater before the end of the play because it was truly making me extremely uncomfortable. It was so disturbing for me that I can’t even tell you if Al Pacino was playing well or not…
    So here you have it. This rendition of the play was just plain insulting and physically disturbing to me. At a time where antisemitism is on the rise globally I don’t think we need this.

    • Marc: The antisemitism was also shocking to me, but what redeemed the play in my eyes was that all the characters end up being fundamentally flawed so it’s not a simple tale of “jews are evil”. That’s why I wonder how it would have been received in Shakespeare’s time, because the entire play is morally ambiguous.

  • Marc: Please! This debate about antisemitism is this classic has been discussed millions of times already. Fabrice is closer to the wisest analysis. It disturbed me at first as well but please pass over it and study it further.

    Fabrice: Have you seen the movie? how does Pacino compare to what you’ve seen? I wonder if he plays it very differently.

    & PS: The original Thomas Crown Affair was just released in Blu-Ray Feb 1st 😉
    I know you prefer the remake but the original is timeless and worth it.

  • I actually have not seen the movie, but will check it out.

    As for the original Thomas Crown Affair, thanks for the tip 🙂 I was thinking of renaming myself Thomas Crown 😉 Not that I think I will ever be so bored I will need to steal paintings in my spare time 🙂

  • Jacques-Andre (sorry no accents on my keyboard)
    I know about the discussions on the play and am happy to study more if you feel I need to do that.

    Remember I am Jewish and I chose to buy tickets for the play. It is not like I did not know where I was going. I just thought that in the 21st century they would direct it differently.

    So my only point here is that the director has a choice of how much they will push the antisemitic envelope and in this case they pushed it to the max. There were different ways to do this and different ways for De Niro to play the part. Here they all made a very clear choice which made me uncomfortable. Hope you can understand.

  • Marc, thanks for having detailed your impression. Yes, I do understand very much cause I was very uncomfortable with this aspect of the play the first time as well. But I now think that exagerating the traits was (ahead in its time) a smart way to provoke counter-reaction, like yours and ours, at least today. Thus denouncing as much by opposition. I highly doubt the producers and people involved in this play today want to propagate an antisemitic message. Agree or not but hope you can accept this explanation. Cheers.