The period in which “The merchant of Venice was wrote, the Elizabethan, was very different to today. When William Shakespeare wrote this play in 1599 Jews were heavily prejudiced against. However today, Jews aren’t looked at as villains anymore, unlike the Elizabethan era. Jews are more sympathised with today because of the “Holocaust” during the WWII, when seven millions Jews were executed.
This meant that Trevor Nunn would have had to be careful in the way in which he directed “the Merchant of Venice” as he did not want to make it anti-Semitic. This romantic comedy deals with moral issues that we still discuss today. Modern day writers could not call this a romantic comedy as modern audiences can not laugh at the same things as Elizabethan people. From Shylock’s point of view it would be a tragedy as he eventually loses everything.
Shylock’s first appearance in the play is in Act1 Scene 3. This scene is where Bassanio has found someone who will lend Antonio money who will then lend it to Bassanio. When we first see Shylock in Nunn’s production, Shylock appears in all black and is wearing a skull cap. When this play was performed in the 17th Century the audience probably would have jeered him when he appeared. It appears Shylock is milking his superiority over Bassanio (the Christian), he keeps on repeating
“Three thousand ducats, for three months”
Bassanio eventually almost begs Shylock to lend him the money. Shylock says that Antonio’s wealth is insecure as it is in his ships, and there are pirates, and rough sea’s, etc. Shylock then flies off the handle when Bassanio invites Shylock to dine with himself and Antonio. We lose sympathy for Shylock at this point because Bassanio does not mention anything about eating pork. This also shows that Shylock is very serious about his religion; this will become relevant later in the play.
Antonio then enters, and then Shylock says he hates Antonio because he is a Christian, and he also loans people money without taking interest on the repayments. In Nunn’s version he has a close-up of Shylock’s face and eyes, in this shot you can see the hate in his eyes and the expression on his face. Shylock again milks his superiority over the Christian’s. Shylock gains some sympathy when he says:
“Fair Sir, you spat on me on Wednesday last,
You spurn’d me such a day, another time
You call’d me dog: and for these courtesies
I’ll lend you thus much monies”
Nunn has Shylock saying this in a very sarcastic tone, this is how I think it would have been said. We gain even more sympathy for Shylock when Antonio says:
“I am as like to call thee so again,
To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too,
If thou wilt lend this money, lend it no
As for friends, for when did friendship take
A breed for barren metal of his friend?
But lend it rather to thine enemy,
Who if he break, thou mayst with better face
Exact the penalty.”
In Nunn’s production Antonio didn’t even look at Shylock when talking to him.
In Act 2 Scene 5 Shylock appears once again. Lancelot tells him that he will be leaving as his servant to go and serve Bassanio instead. Shylock does not appear bothered of this scenario, he just tells him that the Christian won’t give him as much rights as what he has done in the past. In Nunn’s production he sings to his daughter in Jewish and she joins in. This could be Jessica saying a real goodbye where as Shylock is just saying goodbye in general. You can see that his daughter and his religion is all he has in the world.
He hates the Christians so much that when he learns the Christian festival will be passing by his house he tells Jessica to lock all the windows, doors, etc. He also hits his daughter to warn her against going to the Christian’s. As soon as he has done it you can see he is sorry and wishes he didn’t do it, his sorrow is shown in his face. Shylock then looks towards the photo of his wife; it appears to be a shrine to his wife. Shylock then leaves, when Shylock disappears out of view Jessica shouts at him:
“Farewell, and if my fortune be not cross’d
I have a father, you a daughter lost.”
When Shylock appears in Act 3 Scene 1 Solanio announces Shylock’s entrance by saying:
“Let me say ‘amen’ betimes, lest the devil cross my prayer,
for here he comes in the likeness of a Jew”
When Shylock comes into view he clearly looks like a man down on his luck, he is shuffling his feet, and looking untidy. Solanio and Solarino see Jessica running away as a great joke, when Shylock learns about Antonio’s ships he does not appear to even think of revenge. After a few seconds he quickly says that Antonio’s flesh is good for revenge if nothing else. He then delivers a moving speech which makes us feel sorry for him:
“I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew
hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?
fed with the same food. Hurt with the same weapons,
subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means,
warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer
as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you
tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not
die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”
He then breaks down crying, betrayed by his daughter. A sailor showed Tubal a ring which Jessica traded for a monkey, we then find out the ring belonged to Shylock’s wife.
When Shylock enters the courtroom in Act 4 Scene 1 Christians go to attack Shylock because he intends to harm a Christian, but the judge calls them off. Shylock is offered a cheque for double the amount owed but Shylock rips the cheque up because he wants to prove a point with the forfeit. Shylock knows what he is doing is wrong but he believe the principle is correct because Antonio did agree to it. Venice also runs on legality, if he pulls out of the forfeit, Venice will be seen as a weak City.