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New Kittredge Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

The MerchanT of Venice


Editor Kenneth S. Rothwell Emeritus Professor, University of Vermont

Series Editor James H. Lake Louisiana State University, Shreveport

For Bev

Copyright 2008 Kenneth S. Rothwell Edited by George Lyman Kittredge. Used with permission from the heirs to the Kittredge estate. Cover Design by Guy Wetherbee | Elk Amino Design, New England | elkaminodesign.com Cover illustration by Averil Burleigh for The Merchant of Venice: Told by a Popular Novelist (John C. Winston Company, 1914). ISBN: 978-1-58510-264-8 ISBN 10: 1-58510-264-4 This book is published by Focus Publishing / R. Pullins Company, PO Box 369, Newburyport MA 01950. All rights are reserved. No part of this publication may be produced, stored in a retrieval system, produced on stage or otherwise performed, transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, by photocopying, recording, or by any other media or means without the prior written permission of the publisher. Printed in the United States of America 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0208TS

Table of conTenTs
Introduction to the Kittredge Edition vii Introduction to the Focus Edition / Performance Considerations and History ix The Merchant of Venice 1 How to Read The Merchant of Venice as Performance 93 Timeline 97 Topics for Discussion and Further Study 99 Bibliography 101 Filmography 105

inTroducTion To The focus ediTion: PerforMance consideraTions and hisTory


How Does the Play Work?
Just as Prince Hamlet railed against his false friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who would pluck out the heart of [his] mystery, so also his creator, William Shakespeare, spins in his grave as armies of scholars, critics, and directors struggle to ferret out his hidden agendas. With the possible exception of Hamlet, The Merchant of Venice offers more puzzles, ambiguity, contradictions, problems, and riddles than any of the other plays. Elizabethan audiences, steeped in legendary and mythological lore, may have been oblivious to these problems, but literal-minded twenty-first century readers still find suspension of belief more unwilling than willing. The Merchant of Venice tells romantic tales about Venice while a villain, Shylock, like the phantom of the opera, lurks in the background itching to spread unhappiness. Among modern critics, The Merchant of Venice has been viewed as an exercise in the conflict between New and Old Testament values (Portias defense of mercy and Shylocks plea for the letter of the law); as a masterpiece of parallel plots linked by a common concern with commodity (the cold-blooded exchange of merchandise); from a presentist (or modern point of view), as a snide commentary on the bourgeois false consciousness of the Belmont elite; or as a superb example of Shakespeares gift for lyric theatre, especially in the fifth act duet between Jessica and Lorenzo; in the post-Holocaust era it has shared with the infamous Protocols of Zion a reputation as a savage exercise in anti-Semitism; and again as a subtle attack on Christian hypocrisy. These issues have been cogently summed up in James Bulmans observation that The Merchant is a play whose potential to be various things at onceallegory and folk tale, romantic comedy and problem playmay have been realizable only on the Elizabethan stage. 1 It has also won the distinction of being the Shakespearean play that has been most frequently threatened with banishment. What is to be made out of this morass of opinion in which truths and half truths create more cacophony than harmony? The answer is that much can and has been made of this towering but ramshackle verbal edifice. As Kittredges introduction points out, the play has been seen as comprised of two plot lines: the bond and the casket, culled from the prolix sagas of European romance. Anyone reading it, however, soon discovers that this formula is
1 The Merchant of Venice (Manchester and New York, 1991), p.6.

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The Merchant of Venice

too reductive to handle the plays tangle of events. Most obviously there is the contrast between the mercantile Venetian plot and the romantic Belmont episodes. There is also the sub-plot on the elopement of Shylocks daughter Jessica with Lorenzo, which sets up parallels between Jessicas and Portias fathers as tyrannical masculine figures. The exchange of gifts, goods, and especially women enters into the dynamic of the Venetian economy. There is the story of the betrothal rings, in which the rings of Bassanio and Gratiano are sneakily purloined by a disguised Portia and Nerissa. As a sidebar a treacherous Jessica barters away her fathers heirloom turquoise ring for a monkey. Somehow in the midst of all these shenanigans, the primary question has always surged around the dominating character of Shylock, who whether seen as villain or victim has tended to push the other characters into the background, so much so that students are exhorted to remember that the merchant of Venice is not Shylock but Antonio. Ironically, however, even Portia has trouble distinguishing among characters when in the trial scene she asks Which is the merchant here? and which the Jew? (4.1.174). Shylock stands at the center of the bond-motive in which the well meaning Antonio negotiates a loan from Shylock in order to help the penniless Bassanio woo Portia, the lady richly left of Belmont. Although it begins in a merry sport (1.3.138), Antonios pledge to Shylock of a pound of flesh as collateral carries ferocious dangers. The literal-minded Shylock is quite capable of turning the joke into a nightmare by insisting, with the backing of strict Venetian law, on an actual rather than a symbolic pound of flesh, to be cut off and taken/ In what part of your body pleaseth me. Because the part of the body that Shylock has in mind is not immediately revealed, some fertile thinkers have actually wondered if the reference to cutting off does not allude to the penis, or even to circumcision, though in the fourth act the part turns out to be a chunk of raw flesh alarmingly close to the heart. In the Radford film this outcome is presaged in the Rialto meat market where the peddler holds up a revolting chunk of goat meat. A nearby scale foreshadows Shylocks balance in the court room. Exactness is the essence of a business transaction. Antonios misfortunes attract a swarm of scheming parasites. Everyones motives come into question. Is Bassanio, in seeking the money from Antonio, acting out of genuine love for Portia, or out of a base desire to prop up his sagging fortunes? Is he exploiting Antonio for his riches as a shipping magnate, or is there a genuine affection of the young man for the older? Surrounding Bassanio and Antonio is a claque of frivolous cronies, good old boys, men with such comic opera interchangeable names like Salarino, Solario and Salerio that they have often been lumped together as the salads, or the sallies; as well there is the garrulous Gratiano, a court jester, who remains steadfastly loyal to Bassanio. Shylocks servant Launcelot Gobbo, a clown, and his addle- brained father, Old Gobbo, appear intermittently to perform a stand-up comedy routine. The younger Gobbo fills a minor go-between role in the growing rift between Shylock and his turncoat daughter Jessica, a self-hating Jewess, as she plans an elopement with the Christian Lorenzo.

The MerchanT of Venice


draMaTis Personae
The Duke of Venice. The Prince of Morocco, The Prince of Arragon, suitors to Portia. Antonio, a Venetian merchant. Bassanio, his friend, suitor to Portia. Solanio, Salerio, friends to Antonio and Bassanio. Gratiano, Lorenzo, in love with Jessica. Shylock, a Jew. Tubal, a Jew, his friend. Launcelot Gobbo, a clown, servant to Shylock. Old Gobbo, father to Launcelot. Leonardo, servant to Bassanio. Balthasar, servants to Portia. Stephano,

Portia, an heiress. Nerissa, her waiting gentlewoman. Jessica, daughter to Shylock. Magnificoes, Officers, Jailer, Servants, and other Attendants.

Scene.Partly at Venice and partly at Belmont, Portias estate.

The Merchant of Venice

acT i
Scene I. [Venice. A street.] Enter Antonio, Salerio, and Solanio. Ant. In sooth, I know not why I am so sad. It wearies me; you say it wearies you; But how I caught it, found it, or came by it, What stuff tis made of, whereof it is born, I am to learn; And such a want-wit sadness makes of me That I have much ado to know myself. Your mind is tossing on the ocean; There where your argosies with portly sail Like signiors and rich burghers on the flood, Or, as it were, the pageants of the sea Do overpeer the petty traffickers, That cursy to them, do them reverence, As they fly by them with their woven wings.

Saler.

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acT i. scene i. 1. I know not why I am so sad. Shakespeare was fond of presentiments (premonitions, or vague expectations), which might be seen here as evidence of melancholy, or in modern terms depression. [k.r.]. In the BBC version, a somewhat aged Antonio played by John Franklyn-Robbins speaks his lines like a talking head against a bare backdrop that speaks of economy in the production. Most modern productions, as in the Nunn version, set this scene in a caf, where a boozy and somewhat sinister atmosphere reflect the anxieties of the world of commerce and trade, gain and loss. Film and television directors have been impressively creative in discovering ways to open this play. Jack Gold (BBC 1980) costumed John Franklyn-Robbins (Antonio) as an Elizabethan courtier, who first appears alone on the screen, a talking head. He then recites his melancholy lines to Salerio and Salanio in a formal Shakespearian style, against the backdrop of an idealized semipastoral stage. Antonios stiffness sets the tone for the entire production, whose opening set favors uppity Belmont over grubby Venice. Trevor Nunns TV movie (UK 2001) takes a bold new tack, as his Antonio (David Bamber), a tired entrepreneur in a twentieth-century business suit, tries hard to be entertained with his cronies in a sleazy Berlin cabaret in Weimar Germany (c.1922). In another approach, Michael Radford in his major film starring Al Pacino as Shylock exploits all the techniques of contemporary film editing. He employs an old-fashioned silent screen technique of a scroll to explain the full extent of Venetian anti-Semitism, which reflects the directors desire to set the film in its historical context. He freely creates an extra-textual world with a daring montage centered on Venices famous Rialto bridge, which in an array of quick cuts and rapid editing foreshadows the films major events. There is a glimpse of Antonio spitting on Shylock, a ghastly shot of a sacrificed goat from whose slit throat blood copiously gushes, a fanatical priest in a gondola haranguing citizens about the wickedness of the Jews. The goats scapegoat status mirrors Shylocks fate. [k.r.]

how To r ead The MerchanT of Venice as PerforMance


Who reads a play? We hear plays, listen to plays, see plays, watch plays, go to plays. Unless you are a Broadway producer or a film editor, you dont ordinarily read play scripts. As a student of Shakespeare, however, you will inevitably study a Shakespeare play in print. Particularly before attending a play that you are a bit fuzzy about, and whose language you may find confusing, an advance reading is a very good idea. Close reading of the text will soon lead to consideration of the key elements in dramaturgy, as long ago defined by Aristotle, of language, plot, character, spectacle, theme, and finally, if applicable, music. The more that is known in advance about a play, the more satisfying the reading. Plot outlines make a good beginning for getting the major shape in mind, and also useful is a photocopy of the plays dramatis personae to avoid having to thumb back through the pages in search of the cast list. Reading while listening to a recording such as the one of The Merchant of Venice in the new Arkangel-Penguin series forces attention on the language. The Arkangel Merchant features Trevor Peacock as a wily Shylock and Hadyn Gwynne as Portia, with Dominique Le Gendres original score providing compelling sonic help. In the absence of a recording, reading the play aloud, alone or in company, also enforces attention and highlights textual problems. A convenient glossary of difficult words may prove a Godsend as you navigate through the work of an author with a vocabulary of about 35, 000 words, many of which are now archaic, or which Shakespeare sprinkled with suffixes and prefixes, like ennoble, unusd, forebemoaned,etc.. One shibboleth should be confronted right away. For the inexperienced, reading Shakespeare is not exactly fun, any more than climbing Mount Everest is fun. The fun comes in with the sense of pleasure and achievement at conquering a challenge. Another thing to remember is that Shakespeare wrote in early Modern English, not Middle English (the language of Chaucer), and not Old English (the language of the Beowulf epic). Finally, todays reader of Shakespeare benefits from an electronic revolution that has put a galaxy of televised and cinematic productions, on VHS and DVD, available at almost any video rental outlet. The most ambitious, though not the most successful, would be the complete BBC/Time/Life Shakespeare plays that 93



The Merchant of Venice

cast dozens of outstanding British actors, but regrettably included almost no North Americans. Even newer technologies like iPod , Google, and YouTube have scanned miraculous amounts of data, a great deal of which was in the past often found only in the archives of inaccessible libraries. Google offers early texts like the 1600 Quarto of Merchant, which previously had been sequestered in library rare book rooms. YouTube makes an Italian 1910 silent Merchant available on a computer screen, or, among dozens of other entries, the Radford Merchant with Italian dialogue. In drama, language provides the catalyst for bringing together the interaction between plot and character that establishes the plays major themes. Until a character is actually tested in a conflict of some sort there is, as in life, no character, but only a hollow vessel. Mastering the plays language may lead to an unexpected sense of Schadenfreude, the German word for taking pleasure in watching another human being stumble, as when in a major production Morocco proclaims All that glistens is not gold when it should be, as you knew from independent reading, All that glisters is not gold ( 2.7.65). Reading allows time to master the full meaning of a passage, which in the theatre may scoot by unheard, either through an actors poor enunciation or the listeners own fatigue. An example of this problem occurs with Shylocks speech on tolerance that ranks, along with the Ten Commandments, the Gettysburg Address, and the Sacco and Vanzetti letters, among liberalisms most sacred documents: I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passionsIf you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? (MV 3.1.42ff.) Ever since actors began playing on audience sympathy for Shylock, there has been a tendency to credit Shylock with the sensibility of a liberal democrat, though scrutiny of the entire speech shows an underlying current of malice as he declares that the villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction (3.1.52-3). The point is that a skilful actor like Al Pacino can wring multiple insinuations out of a speech. The spectator who knows the text will be better prepared to appreciate its literal meaning and its underlying implications, or subtext, not so much what the actor says as what he thinks. To put it another way, the meaning between the lines can be as important as the meaning in the lines. A very significant clue can also be teased out from the way that an actor responds to another actors words, through facial expressions and body language. Both the onstage and the offstage audience may feel uneasy about the reckless way that Antonio puts a pound of his own flesh in jeopardy while seeming to buy into Shylocks attempt to pass off the bizarre agreement as a merry jest. Antonio does not have a clue, saying Yes, Shylock, I will seal unto this bond (1.3.161), despite Bassanios warning: You shall not seal such a bond for me(1.3.144). The entire sequence is a mini-playwithin-a-play in its micro-enactment of a major theme of The Merchant of Venice, which is the conflict between prodigality and avarice. This one exchange challenges the reader to pay attention to Shylocks tone of voice, Antonios heedlessness. and Bassanios wariness. The way in which each character responds to this twist in the

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