Monday, March 21, 2005

"Was Shylock ever Funny?"

Finally broke my movie drought and went out to see Radford's adaptation of the "Merchant of Venice". And in truth it is a good film, Pacino's Shylock is pretty low key (Smilin' Al is known for his scenery chewing so this was a good thing I think), Lynn Collins did up Portia proud and Jeremy Irons moped around with the gay thing quite nicely.
However, Radford did play it entirely as a ethnic tragedy...Shylock mad with rage gets beat down by the goyim. This is pretty much the way everyone plays the "Merchant" and "The Taming of the Shrew" for that fact these days. Alas these are both comedies of a type that make fun of touchy contemporary subjects. I wonder if either can simply be played for laughs at all?
Complicating things is that "The Taming of the Shrew" has champion scenery shredder Katherina to liven things up, but "The Merchant of Venice" relies on a few ancillary clowns to make with the funny.
Maybe Shakespeare wasn't easy with Shylock's fate?
I've always had an ambiguous relationship with the "Merchant of Venice", it was the first Shakespeare play we read in High School and a perfect catastrophe all around...nobody could believe it was a comedy. And thats not hard to see why, its short on laughs even in professional hands. The nun who was our well-meaning freshman english teacher probably wanted to score some points off prejudice, but the matter ended in frustration and doubt. The whole experience put me off Shakespeare until I was well out of college. And then I waded through some four ghastly productions of the "Merchant of Venice" before the A.R.T. and Tina Packer's Shakespeare and Co delivered the good with their respective productions.
I think the "Merchant" is hard to stage or film, the ethnic angle bothers people. Still and all that it get revived locally quite that to Marlowe's "Dr. Faustus" or Jonson's "The Fall of Sejanus" they NEVER get revived!
Anyhow, Radford's "Merchant of Venice" is duly praised, just don't go looking for chuckles thats all.

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