The Merchant of Venice
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.