Poor Shylock

Today marked the first 2015 visit to the Globe with the Weasels. The play was The Merchant of Venice, which I’d never seen. I did, however, know the story so I didn’t need to read a synopsis beforehand. This always makes the play more enjoyable.

I met up with John and Lindy, then Anthea at a nearby Pret before heading off to The Anchor (our usual pint-before-play location) where we met Bev and Jon then, half a pint before leaving, Lorna, Darren, Bex and Lex. It was then off to the Globe where, for the first time in Weasel memory, there was a queue at the River entrance.

John tried to jump the queue but was given short shrift by someone who clearly had no idea who he was talking to. We decided to forgo the queue and headed round to the main entrance where we walked in easily and without standing in a long line of tourists.

Safely ensconced in our Gentleman’s Box, we laid the picnic table then settled down for some jolly good Elizabethan English. And jolly good it was too.

The story, basically, concerns a merchant (Antonio) who borrows 3,000 ducats for 3 months off the Jew, Shylock. They agree that if Antonio doesn’t repay the loan after the time has passed, Shylock will cut off a pound of his flesh as payment instead. For reasons unknown, Antonio agrees to this and the contract is duly signed and notarised.

And, of course, Antonio’s ship does not come in…literally. He is a merchant and while a rich shipment is due, it is waylaid and fails to arrive on time. Shylock is offered all sorts of recompense but insists on his pound of flesh.

Meanwhile, Bassanio, a good friend of Antonio and for whom the 3,000 ducats was intended, is off to see the love of his life, the fair (and rich) Portia. Portia had a rather odd father who said in his will that Portia could only marry a man who could pick the right box. There were three to choose from (gold, silver and lead) and one contained her portrait. This was the one to choose.

When news of Antonio’s impending doom is heard, Bassanio high tails it back to Venice to help his friend defeat the merciless Jew. Portia (who is also very intelligent) for reasons that can only be wondered at, decides to dress as a lawyer and successfully defend Antonio before heading back home, undiscovered.

At the end of the play poor Shylock, his money divided between the Doge and his daughter’s inheritance, has to go through the final indignity of being converted to Christianity while his daughter wails in Hebrew.

I’ve always thought that Shylock was the bad guy but not so. From the beginning of the play we realise that Shylock is hard done by and much maligned simply because he is Jewish. He is spat on in the street, called names and physically abused by the hypocritcal Christians of Venice. His idea for the pound of flesh is merely his way of claiming back a little of the dignity robbed from him by Antonio and others of his ilk.

That Shylock is treated so badly by the court is a testament to how the Elizabethans viewed Jews. Read today, it seems to be a testament of how a majority can successfully abuse and demoralise a minority simply because they can. It’s not pleasant.

To say the play was thought provoking would put it too mildly. Darren and I talked at length about the basic premise and how unfair we thought it was to poor Shylock.

Moving away from the moral implications of the sub-text, I have to say that Jonathon Pryce was an excellent Shylock. I was very much looking forward to seeing his performance and my wait was well rewarded. I couldn’t fault his performance. Rachel Pickup as Portia was also perfect.

And while the rest of the cast were all very good, a special mention must go to Stefan Adegbola for a delightfully hilarious Launcelot Gobbo. His handling of the two groundlings who he dragged onto the stage to represent two sides of his brain (good and bad) to help him decide what to do, was superb and very, very funny.

While not his original ideas (the three caskets and pound of flesh ideas came from two separate folk tales) Shakespeare effectively wound them both into a story of value and all it’s inherent differences depending on who is pricing it.

Naturally, we followed the Globe with a visit to, firstly The George then The Coal Hole before going our seperate ways home.

Another wonderful Globe outing. I think I’m starting to actually enjoy this Shakespeare chap and his doodlings.

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1 Response to Poor Shylock

  1. Mum says:

    I am glad you told me the story as when I read it as well it sunk in better. It was good to see you in the picture as you always take it.
    love mum xx

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