According to the “Athens” Merchant of Venice website, “Shakespeare and Anti-Semitism: The Question of Shylock,” there are two views on the plays alleged anti-Semitism. First, the text presented strong evidence of Shakespeare’s purpose to portray Shylock as an “inhuman” villain “whose diabolical cunning” was “bent on gratifying a satanic lust for Christian flesh” (Athens 1).
Conversely, many people also feel that the play exposes shortcomings equally in Christians as well as Jews. It could however be surmised that Elizabethan audiences were anti- Semitic. Remember, it was just 300 years earlier, in 1290, when Jewish people were expelled from England
Actor Mark Lee, playing Shylock in the current Sydney Shakespeare Company’s Production asserted that traditionally children were employed to throw fruit at the character and indeed this show doesn’t pull punches. (“Shall we not REVENGE” indeed!) When the moment arrived, a black hood and straight razor reminiscent of some terrorist ritual on a victim strapped to a chair, needed only a camera to be a scene from countless movies on the subject.
On to this production. Considering my high expectations, (THE MERCHANT OF VENICE was my first introduction to Shakespeare in school and like many other dreamers, Shylock the character of choice to play), and the arduous task of rehearsing around the cast’s working lives, I was very pleasantly surprised at a very polished and entertaining production.
Special plaudits to Mark Lee for a very finely balanced and tuned Shylock heading an ensemble of talented and creative artists. Noteworthy are Steven Hopley as Lancelot (also happened to direct the production. Don’t you hate inordinately talented people?!), Andrew Thomson as Salerio and the Duke, and Lizzie Schebesta as Portia.
Do yourselves a favour and find your way to this one.
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE is playing at the Tap Gallery, 278 Palmer Street, Darlinghurst until Saturday August 24, 2013.