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J. C. Bulman
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Crises of the new millennium
The Merchant of Venice directed by Robert Sturua (2000) and Edward Hall (2009)
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The chapter discusses two unconventional productions of The Merchant of Venice bookending the first decade of the twenty-first century. Both resonated powerfully with tensions and fears caused by major socio-political and financial catastrophes. Robert Sturua’s Shylock at the Et Cetera Theatre in Moscow (2000) appeared after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in the depths of post-communist crises and wars. Nine years later, Edward Hall’s all-male touring company put on the play for British and American audiences in the throes of the global financial crisis of 2008. Devoid of moralising or sentimentality, these productions offered astute diagnoses of the social traumas of their historical moments. Sturua transformed the genre of the romantic comedy into a darkly satirical carnival; Hall replaced comedy with vicious drama. Both productions focused on ruthless power struggles, laid bare the connection between money and violence, gave no chance to hope, and allowed hatred to triumph. An unforgiving, claustrophobic, xenophobic, money-obsessed Venice became the central character. Sturua’s Merchant unfolded in an absurdist theatrical world; Hall’s was set in a prison. Both stagings deployed a distinctly post-modern approach: they featured metatheatrical and metacinematic elements, framing, da capo endings, cut and reshuffled playtexts, and multiple intertextual and intra-textual quotations. The play’s antagonists, Antonio and Shylock, were portrayed as mirror images.

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Shakespeare in Performance

The Merchant of Venice

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