David Hirsh On The Merchant Of Venice And Habima

Over at Engage, David Hirsh has scrutinized, picked apart and provided informed cultural analysis on Shakespeare’s Merchant Of Venice within the context of Habima, and some decidedly non-Shakespearean bigots

“When I see a production of the Merchant of Venice, it is always the audience which unsettles me. The play tells two stories which relate to each other. One is the story of Shylock, a Jewish money lender who is spat on, excluded, beaten up, and in the end mercilessly defeated and humiliated. The other is an apparently light-hearted story about an arrogant, rich, self-absorbed young woman, clever but not wise, pretty but not beautiful, and her antisemitic friends. Shakespeare inter-cuts the grueling detailed scenes of the bullying of Shylock, with the comedic story of Portia’s love-match with a loser who has already frittered away his large inheritance.

Shakespeare offers us an intimately observed depiction of antisemitic abuse, and each time the story reaches a new climax of horribleness, he then offers hackneyed and clichéd gags, to see if he can make us laugh. It is as if he is interested in finding out how quickly the audience forgets Shylock, off stage, and his tragedy. And the answer, in every production I’ve ever seen, is that the audience is happy and laughing at second rate clowning, within seconds. And I suspect that Shakespeare means the clowning and the love story to be second rate. He is doing something more interesting than entertaining us. He is playing with our emotions in order to show us something, to make us feel something.”

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