Movie Review: Merchant of Venice (2004)
Author: Christopher Soden — Published: Jun 02, 2006 at 2:33 am 7 comments
Like many of you, I studied Shakespeare in high school and college, but The Merchant of Venice was a play I’d never read or seen. I’d heard that it raised the issue of antisemitism, but assumed it made a case against it. In the relatively short amount of time that I have been reviewing films I’ve more or less adopted the personal wisdom that a red flag should emerge when I feel that I ought to like something. After seeing Michael Radford’s film, however, I tried to ignore my own best advice. I kept thinking about the sequence of events in The Merchant of Venice, looking at them one way and another, I even considered the possibility that Shakespeare was trying to incense the audience. Provoke a sense of moral outrage. But then why did he keep “telling” us that Shylock (Al Pacino), the Jewish money-lender, had brought this all on himself? Why did Shakespeare hold him up to a higher code of conduct than his oppressors? That's one of the oldest dodges around. Still I lacked the courage of my convictions. So I decided to Google it, and sure enough, there are numerous scholars and critics (including Roger Ebert) who are convinced that Merchant’s depiction of the Jews is cruel and distorted. Despite the fact that Shylock is abused and degraded repeatedly by Antonio (Jeremy Irons), he has the gall to ask for a loan. Shylock’s own daughter steals his money to elope with a Gentile, his humiliation and diminish is either ignored or completely missed in the courts (worst of all, by Antonio), and he is summarily punished for even seeking propitiation, draconian though it may be. Despite the fact that Shylock’s heart is broken over and over, he is treated with undeniable contempt and hubris by the principal characters and by Shakespeare. Now, of course, the fact that I was able to find concurring opinions doesn’t necessarily vindicate me. And there are folks...
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