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Bill Alexander and Antony Sher
Boika Sokolova
,
Kirilka Stavreva
, and
J. C. Bulman

Bill Alexander's production of The Merchant for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1987, revived the following year in London, grappled with the play's offensive subject matter more daringly than any production. Refusing either to rehabilitate Shylock as the play's moral standard-bearer (as Miller had done in 1970) or to treat him from a safe historical distance as a comic 'Elizabethan' Jew (as Miller had done in 1980), Alexander courted controversy, seeming almost to invite accusations of racism. Alexander modulated the dynamics of audience response. In an interview for Drama Antony Sher, who played Shylock, noted with dismay that audiences spontaneously applauded this moment. Alexander's Merchant calls the conception of bigotry into question: it assumes that, for all our good intentions, for all our rhetoric of tolerance, deeply ingrained and unacknowledged cultural stereotypes continue to shape our responses to racial, religious, and sexual otherness.

in Shakespeare in Performance
The Merchant of Venice directed by Daniel Sullivan (2010) and Rupert Goold (2011)
Boika Sokolova
,
Kirilka Stavreva
, and
J. C. Bulman

The commercially successful and provocative productions discussed in this chapter were staged at exceptionally popular, publicly funded theatres. Daniel Sullivan directed the play for the Delacorte stage of the Public Theater in New York’s Central Park, with the rising star Lily Rabe as Portia, playing against Al Pacino, who revisited Shylock after performing the part in Michael Radford’s film. The production merited a two-month run on Broadway. For the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, Rupert Goold cast Patrick Stewart as Shylock – the actor’s second take on the character after John Barton’s RSC’s chamber production in 1979. Goold revived The Merchant at the Almeida Theatre, London, with Ian McDiarmid as Shylock. Susanna Fielding gave an award-winning performance of Portia on both stages. Casting star actors as Shylock and talented interpreters of Portia, Sullivan and Goold gave these characters equal attention. Goold set the play in the casinos of Las Vegas and the reality TV shows of garish consumerism. On the Delacorte stage, in turn, the power of money was symbolised by a mammoth set of concentric metal railings, which first divided the privileged from the outsiders, but eventually seemed more like a prison for all. Enticing audiences with the affective power of, respectively, vaudeville and glamorised popular culture, Sullivan and Goold expunged the romance from Shakespeare’s play. The productions underscored the morally corrosive power of money in a cold, acquisitive world.

in Shakespeare in Performance
Performance and context
Boika Sokolova
,
Kirilka Stavreva
, and
J. C. Bulman

If history is any judge, the crucial problem in staging The Merchant of Venice is how to balance its two distinct and seemingly unrelated plots. Although both derive from folk tales, Shakespeare dramatised them in such disparate styles that they seem to compete with rather than to complement one another. This chapter focuses on the roles of Antonio, Bassanio, Shylock, and Portia, exploring the representation of each character in terms of performance and context. It is argued that on the Elizabethan stage, Shakespeare submerged Portia's gender identity so completely in the fusion of Balthasar with the boy actor that the audience would have perceived her only as male. When The Merchant was first performed in late 1596 or 1597, Jews had not lived in England for over three hundred years, and anti-Semitic myths had been able to grow and prosper unimpeded by the presence of Jews to refute them.

in Shakespeare in Performance
Boika Sokolova
,
Kirilka Stavreva
, and
J. C. Bulman

If the test of a good production is that it brings new insight into a play and prompts audiences to return to the text, then Henry Irving's Merchant was triumphant. Irving was the foremost actor-manager of the nineteenth century. This implies things about the organisation of his theatre that were instrumental in his production of The Merchant. The artistic hegemony inherent in the actor-manager system reflected the patriarchal structure of Victorian culture in general i.e., the submission of all members of a family to the will of the father. Primary focus, therefore, was on the talents of one individual, not on an entire company as in Shakespeare's theatre: there were no 'sharers' at Irving's Lyceum. This narrative reveals two things: first, the Victorians' fascination with historical accuracy in their stage productions, and second, their attempt to bring a realistic awareness of cultural difference to the portrayal of 'the other'.

in Shakespeare in Performance
Max Reinhardt’s productions of The Merchant of Venice
Boika Sokolova
,
Kirilka Stavreva
, and
J. C. Bulman

The chapter introduces the iterations of The Merchant of Venice throughout the illustrious career of theatre director Max Reinhardt, one of the first practitioners to identify himself in this way. It discusses his shaping of The Merchant into a festive play during a tumultuous era, which saw the rise and fall of the German Empire, the hope and volatility of the Weimar Republic, and the rise of Nazism and anti-Semitism in the 1930s. Reinhardt’s Merchant had 363 performances across Europe. Between 1906 and 1924, it was seen in Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Brussels, Munich, Bucharest, Copenhagen, Oslo, and Stockholm. Over the course of three decades, Reinhardt’s productions, and The Merchant in particular, shaped the work of an entire generation of theatre practitioners, including architects, playwrights, musicians, dancers, actors, directors, and critics. The chapter analyses the unabashed theatricality of Reinhardt’s productions, the integration of technical innovations, meticulous choreography and orchestration of voice and silence, and his concerted effort to bring wider audiences into the theatre. In 1933, his theatre was confiscated, eventually forcing him to emigrate to the USA. He last staged The Merchant as the festive finale of the first Theatre Biennale in Venice in 1934. The detailed discussion of this production builds on contemporary reviews and reports. While Reinhardt worked toward the creation of a far-reaching community based on humanist principles, the fascist cultural-political powers of the 1930s used his theatre art to instil divisiveness and prop up their own cultural agenda.

in Shakespeare in Performance
Boika Sokolova
,
Kirilka Stavreva
, and
J. C. Bulman

The chapter presents key developments in the global history of The Merchant’s cinematic life from the silent to the Hollywood era, from European studios and the Venetian lagoon to New Zealand’s cultural and natural sites and CGI settings. It analyses the four feature-length film adaptations of the play: the outstanding German silent, released in English-speaking countries as The Jew of Mestri, which enhanced the story of Shylock’s motivation for revenge and offered memorable portrayals of Jewish custom and community; the lavish French-Italian drama, Le Marchand de Venise, with intensified romantic narrative plots and a Shylock who refused to be victimised; the heritage drama The Māori Merchant of Venice, directed by Don Selwyn; and the Hollywood feature William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, directed by Michael Radford and starring Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons. Selwyn’s film, created as a vehicle for reviving Māori language and honour, re-visioned Shakespeare’s play as an alternative New Zealand history. At the same time, it invited a comparative consideration of the Holocaust and the traumas of New Zealand colonisation history, even as it celebrated indigenous cultural resilience. Radford’s dark cinematic drama, in turn, honoured the late twentieth-century theatre tradition of a tragic Shylock, whom it embedded in a history of extreme victimisation of Jewishness. The film complemented religious violence with the final isolation of a homosexual Antonio, and a Jessica caught between divergent identities; it still added comic levity in the romantic line, and occluded the xenophobia of Belmont’s polite society.

in Shakespeare in Performance
Boika Sokolova
,
Kirilka Stavreva
, and
J. C. Bulman

The chapter analyses Peter Zadek’s sustained engagement with The Merchant of Venice, focusing on three of his landmark performances, which challenged the facile philo-Semitic approach to the play, dominant in German productions after the Second World War. In Ulm (1961) and Bochum (1972), the avant-garde director enhanced the entertainment qualities of the play to attract young and working-class audiences, whom he confronted with a vision of Shylock as both a grotesque exaggeration and a vulnerable human being. Even as anti-Semitic stereotypes, reminiscent of Nazi appropriations of the Elizabethan comic villain, shocked theatre-goers, the larger aesthetic mixed grotesque representation with playful irony. The desired effect was to provoke the audience to adopt morally uncomfortable attitudes to the characters and conflicts, and then to compel them to reconsider them. In the influential 1988 production for the Vienna Burgtheater, such ludic provocativeness was replaced with a disciplined study of the corporate operators of the global financial marketplace. Polished and pragmatic, Shylock (performed by Gert Voss) was an indelible part of the world of financial power brokers. Moreover, his dignified exit suggested that he would be returning with the means and determination to win the next battle with his competitors. Revived by the famed Berliner Ensemble, televised, and produced for festival tours in Paris and Edinburgh, this global Merchant dramatised the more insidious manifestations of anti-Semitism, while subverting naturalised notions of a Jewish identity as victimhood.

in Shakespeare in Performance
The Merchant of Venice directed by Trevor Nunn at the National Theatre, London (1999)
Boika Sokolova
,
Kirilka Stavreva
, and
J. C. Bulman

The chapter explores Trevor Nunn’s 1999 Merchant of Venice, at the Royal National Theatre in London, a production positioned within the post-Holocaust performance tradition. Its action was set between the two World Wars, in the 1930s Weimar Republic, with Venice imagined as a Mittel-European place, teetering on the brink of the Holocaust. Scene and text transpositions created new situations and unexpected twists to character relationships. Casting was pointedly employed to give depth to racial and ethnic social interrelations. Key to Nunn’s interpretative approach was the palpable sense of a social milieu and his capacity to lay bare the instabilities and weaknesses of all characters, allowing for shifts of empathy. Bassanio was a decent character, which enabled a genuine emotional relationship with Portia. Portia’s biases and charm were also finely balanced. A darkly scintillating Shylock was a lonely adversary to Antonio who was erotically attracted to Bassanio. Scenes of Jewish domesticity alternated with rowdy public ones. Nunn offered a directorial view of Merchant, in a production responsive to the rich colours of the play, the challenges of class, race, and patriarchy. Along with anti-Semitism, it presented a web of societal hierarchies, and probed latent and overt xenophobia, racism, and patriarchal attitudes.

in Shakespeare in Performance
The Merchant of Venice in Mandatory Palestine (1936) and the Venetian Ghetto (2016)
Boika Sokolova
,
Kirilka Stavreva
, and
J. C. Bulman

This chapter discusses two productions of The Merchant of Venice, performed in sites of significance for Jewish history, spirituality, and identity. Their immediate resonance was enhanced by mock trials purposing to restore justice denied in the play. Their historical contexts were both marked by surges in immigration, violence, and political radicalisation. The first one, in 1936, in Mandatory Palestine, was performed by the Habima Theatre, the future national theatre of Israel. It was directed by Leopold Jessner, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany. The production provoked a media frenzy across ideological lines, prompting a Literary Trial by the Friends of Habima, to argue questions of Shakespeare’s anti-Semitism and Jessner’s approach to Shylock. The second production, in 2016, marked 400 years since Shakespeare’s death and 500 years since the establishment of the Venetian Ghetto. It was performed in the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo by Compagnia de’ Colombari, an international collective directed by Karin Coonrod. A parallel mock trial was part of the commemorative programme, with a team of top-ranking legal professionals, led by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The 1936 trial found Shakespeare innocent of anti-Semitism, Habima courageous to present the play, and Jessner not guilty in conceiving a Shylock in the spirit of the time. In 2016, the trial declared Shylock innocent, ruled full redress of his losses, and penalised Portia for professional deceit, sending her to study law. Shakespeare’s problem comedy, it seems, keeps its interpreters both onstage and in the courtroom chasing after the elusive ideal of justice.

in Shakespeare in Performance
Pressures of war, ideology, and the crises of late capitalism
Boika Sokolova
,
Kirilka Stavreva
, and
J. C. Bulman

The Segue surveys major interpretative shifts in the performance of The Merchant of Venice from the 1930s through the second decade of the twenty-first century. It challenges the view of the play as a favourite propaganda tool of the Nazi regime, and contextualises attempts to place it in the service of fascist ideology. An overview of European productions from the rise of fascism through the Second World War reveals a prevalence of philo-Semitic and anti-Nazi readings. Under the different post-war totalitarian regimes, the play mostly disappeared from stage. Radical performances by directors like Peter Zadek, in the 1970s and 1980s, refocused the thinking around Shylock and brought economic clashes to the fore; in the 1990s, Peter Sellars shed light on the connections between economic and racial conflicts. After 1989, a rich panoply of approaches from Eastern Europe (Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia) grappled with the social and moral crises of the post-communist transition, while new histories of oppression informed productions and adaptations from the Netherlands, France, and Germany. The chapter traces early twenty-first-century processes of revising and fragmenting Shakespeare’s text, of challenging it directly, or appropriating it to speak to the intersecting stories of victimisation of Black and Brown people, Muslims, immigrants, women, queer people, etc. Such radical transformations have used The Merchant as a source for new narratives, not unlike Shakespeare’s treatment of his own sources.

in Shakespeare in Performance