The play “The Merchant of Venice” was written about 1596 by the great English playwright William Shakespeare. Although the play has gone through some revisions it has never been changed a great deal. In the past fifty or so years as Hollywood has come into light and the movie adaptations of some of Shakespeare’s greatest plays have been shown in a different perspective, they have given us other peoples pre-conceptions of the play. The Merchant of Venice is no different with several variations of the play on the silver screen.
In this piece of work I am going to show how the director of the play has changed it in any way from what I thought of the original text. It was directed and produced by Jonathan Miller and starred Lawrence Oliver. As I read the text I had many of my own pre-conceptions about setting, characters, personalities, traits and how they moved around the stage, and that the play would remain intact on the big screen-how wrong I was. First I will deal with the characters how the text made me feel towards them and how I thought they would look.Order now
Lawrence Oliver portrayed Shylock enigmatically as he always had the presence of power and forcefulness on screen through his actions and words. I imagined Shylock to be a short, withered man who was quite plump, greedy, bald and of no conscience what so ever. The play made me feel no sympathy towards him as he was taking a man’s life away and that he was the one who should be at the receiving end of the knife not poor Antonio and that he showed no remorse for what he was about to do.
However in the film I saw a man who was six foot tall and was a proud man, who I felt the other characters were persecuting for being a Jew. When he was being referred to in the play he was referred to as the Jew not Shylock. I felt this was of no significance until I saw the film and was surprised to see how much hatred was put into the saying the Jew. As if hatred flowed through the one syllable word, if he was in the room people would refer to him as the Jew but not to Shylock but indirectly as if he wasn’t even there.
Yes he was a cold hard man but in my opinion the film made me feel sorry for him as he had lost a wife and daughter. Jessica Shellac’s daughter is what I believe has fueled his hate of Christians as she has eloped and got married to one. But in the book it is said to have been Antonio the Christian’s good deeds towards the people who owe Shylock money and can’t afford to pay and I feel that Shylock was the victim in this film and was the main character as it was all about the bond.
I say victim because I didn’t feel that in the play that there were any anti-Semitic feelings towards Shylock but in the film I felt that the other characters hated him, as he was a Jew. It was not the place of the other characters to judge Shylock for taking his bond as it was Antonio fault for making the bond between him and Shyllock as he shouldn’t have gambled so much on the prevailing winds as we should say. Antonio is the merchant of Venice and as one of the plays main characters it was important to my vision of the play as to what he was like.
I pictured a man in his late twenties, tanned and of high stature in society as he had a lot of money and his personality was that of happiness and of the joy of life which was being taken away from him by the cruel and tyrannical Shylock. Whenever I saw him in the film I saw a man of about 65 standing sullen as a priest at a funeral who was uncaring as to whether he lived or died at the hand of Shylock he kept, “Saying take your bond”. I felt no sympathy whatsoever for him as he didn’t particularly want it.
I felt his being cast as Antonio was all-wrong and that he was there as more of a sidekick to Shylock whom I felt was the main character. Portia I imagined to be a fair maiden in her early twenties with blonde hair and blue eyes who disapproved of all her suitors and must be a looker as she had so captively won the heart of the young Bassanio the prince of Arragon and Morocco. My preconception was all wrong as there was a woman who was about 40 wasn’t that nice looking and to all viewers her personality towards everyone except Bassanio was less than pleasant.
She constantly acted as a snobbish spoilt brat towards her servants and also her guests as she constantly forgot Jessica’s name. In the play I got no hint of this. It didn’t portray Portia’s disdain for young Jessica, as she seemed to view her in the light of a refuge from her father’s tyrannical reign and nothing more than that. I believe the director used his artistic freedom to add this in and if it were left out would have no real difference to the plot and since it was there add a whole new dimension to the play.
Bassanio in the play was in my imagination was a man of 26 who was a gold digger and was more worried about Portia finding out how poor he was and leave him and he came off in the play as just thatch was a side track to the play and was a romantic distraction to the real theme of the play. Lancelot had no real impact on the play but to add backup to Bassanio’s claims and accusations. His main part in the play was the scene with him in his father and it added a comical element to the play was completely left out.
Portia’s suitors I considered men of proud stature who talked with a posh accent, who were wore fine garments and clean shaven. I did consider the prince of Morocco as a bit bigheaded and the prince of Arragon to be a bit on the not so nice looking side. But this was beyond ridiculous, as they were at the far end of the spectrum of pompous and old. In all honesty they where used as a comical sidetrack. The prince of Morocco was extremely pompous man who thought that Portia would choose him no matter what. Even so the prince of Arragon was at least 59 years her senior and could barely see never mind live to marry Portia.
Several Characters were left out such as The Duke of Venice, Old Gobbo who I considered to be important to the play as in my opinion his scene with his son Lancelot was one of comedy. Other people were left out of the play but were rather insignificant and it was understandable but it seems to me that the director took too many liberties when making this into a silver screen production. I also found that characters lines were shortened and that very often scenes such as the one with Old Gobbo and Lancelot were completely cut out.
The director was able to convey different emotions through the words than what I thought, such as whenever Shylock is referred to as that Jew. In the play I imagined it to be said without an ounce of prejudice. It was said in the play with contempt of Shylock and could change what people think the play’s theme is about from the bonds that exist between people to anti-Semitism. I also felt the play changed what my view of Jessica and how Important she was as Portia kept forgetting her name as if she was insignificant.
Also of her father and how I thought she was happy about leaving him but after the trial of Antonio and the downfall of the Jew her father who was humiliated due to the fact that he had to become a Christian as this is unfair punishment. She is upset and looks sad, and there is nothing in the text to support these two things even happening. All in all the play didn’t live up to my expectations and I believe the director took too many liberties when making the film. But it is true that my pre-conceptions of a book or play are different than the next mans.