William Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’ was performed outstandingly on the 20th of September 2007. The play was performed at The Globe Theatre with fantastic direction from Rebecca Gatwart. The play is magnificently thrilling even for those who have not yet read the play. It is a brilliant understandable version of the play, which does not stray very far from the true script. The play is set in Venice where Bassanio seeks three thousand ducats from his close friend Antonio, which he hopes to spend on travel to Belmont to woo the beautiful, rich heiress Portia.
But Antonio is not in the position to lend his money as all his merchandise it at sea. He asks the Jewish usurer Shylock for a loan despite the fact they both dislike each other. They are agreed to a bond whereby if Antonio does not repay the money within 3 months time Shylock will be free to take a pound of flesh from anywhere on Antonio’s body he wishes to. Bassanio goes to Belmont where he marries Portia. Meanwhile, back in Venice, Antonio is having some problems with his boat and is unable to play Shylock back what he is owed. Antonio fears for his life while Bassanio tries to come up with a way to save his endangered friend.
Shakespeare includes many key themes within the play, which provide the basis for most of the plot. One of these themes is mercy verses justice. There are many places in which this theme is highlighted within the play. One of the main parts that express the theme is the trial scene. Antonio is preparing to be killed and Shylock is being begged for mercy. Shylocks view on justice and mercy is “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
Shylock is someone who intends on seeking revenge on those who have wronged him. He thinks that people should be treated how they treat others. So when Shylock is about to take Antonio’s flesh and is being offered a lot of money and the chance to be merciful, he decides to stick to his bond. This frames Shylock as a merciless, cruel and cold-hearted man. This is when Portia steps in, disguised as a lawyer, with a way to turn Shylocks bond against him. Shylock is given a harsh penalty for attempting to kill Antonio and once again the theme of mercy verses justice is highlighted. It seems highly hypocritical of Portia to have expected Shylock to have mercy on Antonio when she showed no mercy towards him. Because of this, it is hard to decide whether Shylock should be viewed with pity or anger.
Another key theme is love and hate. There are many examples within the play that show how these two strong feelings can affect our lives. One of the most obvious is the friendship between Antonio and Bassanio. They would literally do anything for each other. Antonio sacrifices his own life for the happiness of Bassanio. Bassanio says he would do the same for Antonio. He also says, “Life itself, my wife, and all the world are not with me esteem’d above thy life”. They have a strong compassion for each other and neither could live without the other. When this love is compared with the other types of love in the play, it seems the strongest.
There is romantic love shown in the play between Portia and Bassanio, Nerissa and Gratiano, and Jessica and Lorenzo. Bassanio only really sought Portia because she was rich and Nerissa and Gratiano got married after only knowing each other for a short while. It is clear that Bassanio and Antonio value their love for each other more than the couples. Shakespeare highlights how love can cause problems. Because of their friendship, Antonio’s life is threatened.
On a totally different level, it often seems as though Shylock loves his possessions more than his own daughter. When he is told of his daughter fleeing with much of his possessions he says ” I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear!” Also, hate is an obvious factor of the play. There is a strong hatred between Christians and Jews. Launcelot (Shylocks servant) talks of leaving his master and refers to him as “the very devil incarnal.” There is a clear hatred between Shylock and Antonio as Shylock mentions an “ancient grudge”. This hatred leads Shylock not being merciful towards Antonio and seeking his full revenge.
Value and worth is another key theme within the story. There are times when it seems that the women in the play are valued equally, or less so, to possessions. Portia’s dad left a request in his will for each man who wishes to marry her to have to want to marry her for the right reasons. He does this with a small trial where there are 3 caskets, one of led, one of silver and one of gold. Each casket has something written on it and if the correct casket were chosen then the suitor would be worthy or marrying Portia. The led casket is worth the least, however it is the one that grants the marriage. It could be said that it is as though Portia is being given away like another object left in her fathers will. Also, Shylock seems to value his daughter below his money and possessions.
Shylock was played by John McEnery. He seemed to fit into his character naturally. There was no one part in the play where he seemed out of focus and he was always 100% in character. John McEnery was spot on with is body language. He didn’t rely on the script to express his emotions and thoughts. If at any point he was told to freeze in his position, it would be clear what emotion he was expressing, however, it was not overdone. At points in the play when Shylock felt powerful, for example, when he thought he was going to be given the right to kill Antonio, he expressed the feeling of power through his body language.
His head was held high and he was stood straight, it was clear that he felt he was in the right. However, at points in the play when Shylock was feeling humiliated and angry, like when he was being spat at or discriminated against as a Jew, his shoulders were hunched over in embarrassment as if he felt low, but the anger and bitterness could be seen in his face. John McEnery developed a perfect and distinctive walk for Shylock. The gestures he used were very distinguishable and different to those of the other characters in the play. Every word spoken by him could be heard clearly. McEnery used his voice as another tool for expressing the emotions of Shylock. When he was angry, he almost spat out his words.
Towards the end, when practically everything he had was taken from him, Shylocks voice grew softer and it sounded as though he was in pain and there was nothing he could do about it. The feeling of hopelessness was conveyed brilliantly and caused much of the audience to sympathize with Shylock. Shylock was played so that he fitted with the action tactfully. He did not pull focus when he was not the centre of attention but he was still always in character. He blended into the performance enough so that he wasn’t forgotten and wasn’t always being focused on. The character of Shylock was very convincing. There was not one point in the play where he would have been thought of as John McEnery rather than Shylock.