June 22, 2009

Review: The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice
by William Shakespeare

I was in the mood for something small and entertaining. Who better to turn to than Shakespeare? I was unfamiliar with this play, not knowing even if it was a comedy or tragedy, involving romance or war.

The Merchant of Venice is a young man, Antonio, who endebts himself to a slimy moneylender in order to help his friend, Bassanio, woo Portia, a lady of Belmont. When Antonio's ships don't come in to port, the ones he was counting on to repay the loan shark, he is required by contract to give "a pound of flesh" lying closest to the heart. Bassanio feels responsible; but a scheme is hatched by Portia that will hopefully save the day.

What can I say? Shakespeare is Shakespeare. I will always think his plays are something to marvel at. I will warn my readers that the wicked men are all Jews and referred to in the worst of lights, with the exception of Jessica, who converts to Christianity in order to run away with her true love. It didn't bother me as I looked at it through its cultural context but I've heard some feel uncomfortable with the stereotype so I mention it.

I will make one observation: consistently in the Shakespearean plays I've read so far women are always disguising themselves as men in order to play some trick on the men and make the men look foolish. This makes me wonder about Shakespeare's view of women. Did he think of women as sneaky and out to humiliate him or did he just find this type of situation funny and knew the audience would love it? I suppose it's a question I will never know the answer to. It's of little consequence to my enjoyment of his work.

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Jenny said...

I always wonder what Shakespeare really thought about women. I (like to) think he had a better understanding than a lot of his contemporaries of the personhood of women - if that makes sense! I think sometimes he was just playing for laughs, but I can't see how he could write a character like Beatrice, and not respect women just a wee bit.

(And I love that sonnet about "My mistress's eyes are nothing like the sun" - bless.)

C. B. James said...

I've always suspected the disquise business had to do with the fact that all actors in his day were men. So his audience was watching a boy playing a woman disguised as a man. I think there are one or two plays with a boy playing a woman disquised as a man disguised as a woman.

I can see where this all would have been very funny.

Shelley said...

I just read this one about a year ago, and listened to an audio version. I think I saw a DVD of a performance as well. You would think I would be able to make some intelligent comment about the play as a result, but nothing's coming!

Zibilee said...

I have never read this, but your synopsis makes me think that it is long overdue. Great review, I think I will have to grab a copy.