The Merchant of Venice
[Gascon] has decided to give us a gently noble Shylock besieged by a group of empty-hearted Venetian playboys. Such an interpretation (it has been done before incidentally, notably by the old Vic about eight years ago when Lee Montague played Shylock) is acceptable to the modern mind, but rides rough on Shakespeare. The playwright envisaged Shylock as a figure of fun and contempt, an ethnic caricature. Mr. Gascon tries to see him as a figure of oppression. To some extent it works, but the play loses its magic as a fairy tale of love, and its hint of chairity and compassion. Mr. Gascons approach by inevitably focusing attention upon racial issues that were no concern of Shakespeare (he had merely, without particular rancor, cast as his villain a cartoon of a Jewish usurer) damages those themes and variations, all about love, chance, pity and destiny that are vital to the poet’s purpose. That said, let me at once admit that if you are going to stage a wrong-headed “Merchant,” this one has been staged in Stratford with a fine mixture of subtlety, speed, and conviction … Donald Davis as Shylock showed a grave dignity and a proper grief, yet was still a little lightweight. Mr. Gascons intent permitted very little differentiation between Shylock and the carefully noble Antonio of Leo Ciceri. They could almost have exchanged interpretations without anyone noticing. Maureen O’Briens Portia was spirited and girlish, although she seemed unable to remove all the quotation marks that lingered around most of her most famous speeches … The designs by Desmond Heeley were handsome but unsurprising, like one’s first view of the Rialto Bridge from a Venetian gondola. It used to be said that “King Lear” was unstageable.
KeywordsFairy Tale Racial Issue Modern Mind Italian Accent Righteous Indignation
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