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Aesthetes in a rugger club
Jonathan Miller and Laurence Olivier
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The spectre of Henry Irving hovered uncannily over the National Theatre's 1970 production of The Merchant of Venice. Jonathan Miller, a theatrical iconoclast with an interest in social history far keener than Laurence Olivier's, located the roots of modern prejudice not in theology, but in economic theory and power relations. For him, as for Irving, The Merchant should not pander to popular prejudices with comic stereotypes, but promote 'a feeling of dignity and austerity'; it should eschew romantic artifice in order to 'search for reality'. By updating the play to 1880, Olivier appropriated Shakespeare's text to explore a society in which the economic and social tensions emergent in Elizabethan England had become more intricate and codified. In order to refashion the play as a realistic portrait of late Victorian society, Miller had to adjust Shakespeare's text.

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Shakespeare in Performance

The Merchant of Venice

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