How do I start this post? I want to talk about The Merchant of Venice. Had an empty house this afternoon, a rare occasion. So I had peace to watch the DVD. It is a fantastic movie, great locations, magical music and wonderful actors. But what about the story, the play. It is a fantastic tale. Bassanio needs money to be able to go and win the the heart of Portia, a rich beauty. He asks his friend Antonio to stake him. Antonio who appears to be in love with him, borrows the money from Shylock, a Jewish money lender. In their bond Shylock asks only for a pound of flesh if he fails to pay the dept. Antonio's investments, merchant ships that will make him rich, are all wrecked. So he can't pay the dept. There is a lot more to the story and I urge you to see it.
The part I would like to comment on, is the scene when Shylock demands his pound of flesh. Portia dressed up as a young Doctor (Lawyer) is able to save Antonio's life. She is very clever and to me is one of Shakespeare's greatest characters, she makes all the men in the play, look like idiots.
Its the question of antisemitism that I would like to address. This blog is called A Shakespeare Journey and I am still at the start. There is a lot of controversy surrounding Shakespeare. One of the debates is. Was he antisemitic? When Portia in, The Merchant of Venice, gets Antonio off the hook, the punishment met out to Shylock is very heavy. Half his fortune is to be given to Antonio and half to the state. He is forced to renounce his Judaism and become a Christian. Now this is a dangerous conclusion from me. I have only saw the DVD and not read the text of the play. All through the play we see how Jews are mistreated in Venice, not given the same freedoms as Christians, being spat upon in the streets and canals. I think Shakespeare showed us, how it was at the time, all over Europe. My conclusion is that like writers of today, he exposed the predgdices of the people at that time and hopefully helped change opinions. In Shylock's speeches he describes, as I see it, that we are all the same. If you prick me, do I not bleed. I thought it was heart breaking the way he is persecuted and brought down to his knees. It may have been symbolic of how Jews have been persecuted down through the ages and to this day, still suffer antisemitism.
Shakespeare wrote this play with those speeches. That is why I think he was a genius and wasn't antisemitic. These are just my thoughts, I hope they are not too simplistic. This post was really hard to write, I felt as if I was tying myself in knots sometimes. I hope I was not biased because of my love for Shakespeare. I would hate to think he was antisemitic. And I, don't think he was. I hate bigots, racism, antisemitism and wish we could all just live and let live. I know, that's a cliche. how else can I put it? If you don't agree with my views, well, you can leave a comment.