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The Character of Shylock Plays

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    The character of Shylock plays an important part in The Merchant of Venice. He is a money lender who charges interest (commonly known as usurer) and agreed to a bond with one of his customers called Antonio. Antonio agreed that if he wasn’t able to repay him, then Shylock could receive a pound of his flesh. Unsurprisingly Antonio couldn’t repay him, and so the bond was taken to court. We watched three different portrayals and examined the three different roles of Shylock. The first version we watched was Al pachino’s version. Al pachino is a well known Italian/American actor.

    This was directed by Michael Radford, and was created for cinema viewing. To follow this we watched Henry Goodman’s version of the scene. This wasn’t intently created for a large audience. It was made by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and seems to appear as more of a stage play. It was set in a dull set, and so was more theatrical. As it was created by the RSC, I think that they were quite dependant on the text, and wanted to stick to what was written, rather than adding their own little twists. The final version we watched was produced by the BBC, and made for TV purposes.

    This obviously would have had more of a budget than Goodman’s, but both were just as impressive. From just reading the book, I had anticipated Shylock to be a selfish, greedy, and all over quite an unpleasant man, but I think that his true colours shone through him. When reading the book you didn’t seem to get the sense of sadness towards the end of the scene which was projected through the all three film version. As explained above, Michael Radford’s’ version of the merchant of Venice was made for a cinema audience. It was set in 16th century Venice, and offered a wide range of costumes suitable of the era.

    He was dressing a long black robe, and Jewish skull cap. He appears a very frail, and fairly elderly character. The scene begins with a very thoughtless and uncaring Shylock entering the court. All of the crowd were being held back, to stop Shylock getting hurt. He tries to make it very apparent to Antonio that he is more than capable of going ahead with his intentions. This is very belittling for Antonio, and makes him almost seem like an awaiting victim, which in a sense, is what he was. When Portia enters dressed as a doctor of laws she asks ‘Is your name Shylock? This is an unusual thing to be said to Shylock, as many people just refer to him as ‘the Jew’. When he answers he pronounces his name in a very Jewish accent, showing that his is proud of his origin. It is not long before it starts to become very real for Antonio, and the prospect of cutting off a pound of his flesh, almost seems definite. At this stage, he speaks to Bassanio, exchanging what he thinks his last words. This was a very emotional time for the pair, and anyone who didn’t feel sorrow in those few minutes must have had a heart of stone.

    Shylock glanced a look at them, but his eyes turned down to the floor, and he continued to sharpen his knife on his shoe. He began to role his eyes at them, as though they were wasting his time. I think this was well acted, as the expression on Al pachino’s face was more than words could say at the time, and showed how he felt about the situation. After Antonio and Bassanios’ talk came to a close Shylock mentions how he has a daughter, Jessica. When he said this, he almost instantly changed his expression and he starts to shrivel his face and grit his teeth, almost in an animal like manner.

    This shows his wroth for Jessica, as she married a Christian. This is a threat to Antonio, as he is a Christian himself. It is not long after this that Shylock is ready to cut off a pound of Antonio’s flesh. He firstly sharpens his knife on his shoe again, and then prays. He seems rather nervous, and even though he holds the knife with two hands, it continues to shake. The concentration on his face was very noticeable. As Portia interrupts him he shouts, showing she had interfered with his focus. She explains the rules of his bond, and that if he was to go against these or not abide, then he would lose a lot.

    Shylock double checks what is written, and then looks around and shakes his head in confusion. ‘Is that the law? ’ he whispers to himself. His eyes were flickering with confusion, and he could barely look at Portia. He starts to pray on his hands and knees, and a tear streams down the side of his face. It seems like he wants to let all of his emotions go, but starts to hold back, and pulls himself together. On his exit he hung his head low, and was spat on by a member of the court audience. Shylock ignored this, even though he knew he’d lost everything.

    The second version of the scene we watched was directed by Trevor Nunn. The character that played Shylock was called Henry Goodman. It was filmed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and so wasn’t made for TV or cinema purposes. It was mainly aimed at schools studying the book. I think considering the low budget, and the slightly dull set, it was well performed. The quality of the acting was superb, and I think that if they were replaced onto an expensive, attractive set, then overall it would have turned out just as good, or perhaps better than any of the others.

    It was set in the 1930’s, which was made apparent by the costume. Shylock was dressed in a dark three-piece suit with a white shirt and tie. He was also dressed in his Jewish talleth (a tasselled scarf like object which is placed around the neck), and a kippa (a Jewish skull cap). He appeared to be a business man. To start the scene off Shylock walked up to the Judges desk and slammed down his bond. When he spoke he kept eye contact with the Judge and the audience. As the scene progresses, he builds up emotionally, and at one point, can hardly get his words out.

    I think at this point Trevor Nunn used a good use of use of volume, and also when Goodman whispers ‘Tis Mine’. When it appears that Portia is on his side, he kisses his talleth as though his luck was due to his religion. At that moment in the court room, Tubal, a fellow Jew got up from his chair and walked out. As he did so he looked at Shylock, as though he was disappointed in him. This made Shylock pause for several seconds, and start to think about what he was doing. But within seconds lets it pass over his head.

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