19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Horribly Misunderstood Play,
This review is from: The Merchant of Venice / Trevor Nunn, Royal National Theatre (DVD)
As all of the other reviews seem to agree, I find this production to be magnificently performed, shot, and produced. In fact, the only problem the other reviews seem to state is the anti-Semitism present in the play.
In fact, many Shakespearean scholars disagree with this analysis, citing The Merchant of Venice as Shakespeare's tongue-in-cheek to contemporary Christopher Marlowe's anti-Semitic The Jew of Malta. Unlike Marlowe's play, Shakespeare paints all of the characters as very grey. There are no black and whites or absolutes here; Shylock has enough motive to be sympathized with (even if he takes things too far), and the other characters lack virtue enough that they cannot be seen as clear protagonists or heroes versus Shylock. In fact, Shakespeare through Shylock offers a case for equal treatment under the law, touching upon the cruelty exacted on the Jewish community by the Christian state of Vienna ("If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.")
The writing in this is fantastic, and the themes were revolutionary in Shakespeare's time. I feel that many others who have reviewed this have either misunderstood the play, or have failed to examine it carefully. It is certainly a masterpiece that more decries anti-Semitism than encourages it.