The Merchant of Venice

Book review by Deane Barker tags: fiction, theater, shakespeare

For the record, I didn’t read the raw play, but rather the book “The Merchant of Venice” by Modern Library. This book has the script, a scene-by-scene analysis, and about as much commentary from directors and actors who have staged the play.

I supplemented this by watching the 1947 TV special with Olivier, and the 2004 movie with Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons.

I found the script very hard to read the first time. (I wrote about that experience a bit.)

It made much more sense when I followed along while watched the 1974 TV special. Then I watched the 2004 movie and it really made sense. The movie was amazing. Pacino was incredible as Shylock.

Two main questions linger, as they have for hundreds of years:

  • Was Antonio a gay man, and was his unexplained sadness in the first scene because of unrequited love for Bassinio?

  • Was Shylock meant to be sympathetic or evil? (If evil, then this is a shockingly anti-semitic play…)

I don’t have answers, as people have been talking about these questions every since the play was published.

I did not enjoy reading it, but I did enjoy the totality of researching it. You cannot simply read Shakespeare and expect to come away fulfilled. To really get it, you need to immerse yourself in it – it’s a holistic process of reading, watching, and analysis of multiple sources.

Book Info

William Shakespeare
  • I have read this book. According to my records, I completed it on .
  • A softcover copy of this book is currently in my home library.

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