Dan Sandman

14: The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

In Books, Fiction, Plays on 05/04/2013 at 12:00 pm
The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

“Over the years, I have enjoyed many Wordsworth Classics; high quality books with succinct introductions at affordable prices.”

Over the years, I have enjoyed many Wordsworth Classics; high quality books with succinct introductions at affordable prices. I found this Shakespeare Series edition whilst book-foraging in Camden Town near to where I live. It was a Bank Holiday Monday and most shops were closed. There were two bookshops open: the esoteric second-hand bookshop by the touristy lock; and the lovably quirky Book Warehouse on the high-street where I found my Shakespeare.

I like the punk rock fan who works at The Book Warehouse. He wears cool cult jumpers such as one with a quote from the film Ghostbusters. I used to work for the – now UK defunct – global corporation Borders who had all sorts of rules to do with efficiency and CCTV spying. I’d have preferred to do the punk rocker’s job; he gets to play his own music whilst stock adjusting and being relaxed with customers – cool. I tell you this because, strangely enough, there was a young man before me in the queue who wanted a copy of Hamlet but couldn’t see it on the shelf. To my delight, the aforementioned contented bookseller – without hesitation – double checked the shelf, adventured up some stairs, found the appropriate cardboard box, returned down the stairs, and gave the customer his Hamlet. It was the last copy.

I’m glad that Shakespeare’s plays are still popular today. In my country, the UK, children are practically forced, by enthusiastic English teachers, to enjoy Shakespeare. The bard is taught as the epitome of playwriting; an essential Elizabethan / Jacobean social and cultural focal point; an inspiration for all following dramatic and poetic works. Fortunately, for the millions of readers who like English as a subject, it turns out that good old ‘Will Shakes’ is worth the hype. It turns out that pretty much everything he wrote turned to gold.

Talking of gold, The Merchant of Venice is a comedy themed around money with a dark, arguably anti-Semitic undercurrent. All the usual ingredients, from elaborate courtship rituals to men dressed as woman, are there for a Shakespearian comedy. However, much of the supposed humour revolves around the Jewish money lender Shylock. As payment for a debt owed, Shylock attempts to use an old Venetian law to butcher the Christian merchant Antonio. Shylock demands his ‘pound of flesh’, refuses to take money offered as repayment, and has often been portrayed in productions as a vengeful villain. It is no coincidence that in Germany, between 1934 and 1939, the play was staged thirty times.

However, as always with Shakespeare, there is much scope for interpretation. As the plot unravels, it is possible to see Shylock as an ostracised member of Venetian society and a frustrated teacher; dismissed by The Duke of Venice – who has been duped by a masquerade – and ignored by those he seeks to teach. In my opinion, the play is much the better for its ability to spark debate.

Worth a read.

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  1. I enjoyed reading your interpretation of this play. In my opinion, the work has one of the most beautiful passages in literature:

    How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
    Here we will sit, and let the sounds of music
    Creep in our ears: soft stillness, and the night,
    Become the touches of sweet harmony.

    Do you accept requests? I would love to read a Dostoevsky book review from you. Most of his major works might be too long to read within a week, but his shorter works – The House of the Dead, Notes from the Underground, etc. – are manageable.

    • Thanks, glad you enjoyed the piece. I agree, that is a beautiful passage. Yes, I do accept requests, I’ll look into prior the mentioned Dostoevsky books.

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