26 January 2017 | bkoganbing
Name your own collateral
A chance to see Lord and Lady Olivier in a work of Shakespeare is never to be passed up. Laurence Olivier is the enigmatic Shylock whose interpretation has changed over the century and Joan Plowright whose hand all the young folk in Venice but one seems to want.
Of course I came into watching The Merchant Of Venice expecting to see Laurence Oliver doing his patented mittel-Europa accent best known for use in The Boys From Brazil. Instead we got a most cultured Shylock not someone you'd otherwise might think of selling from a pushcart on the Lower East Side.
I think Olivier did it this way because Shylock the money lender is trying his best to assimilate into Venetian society as far as he can and still be true to his culture. He only goes so far, daughter Jessica would sooner convert and marry Lorenzo who really is a fortune hunting snake. They are played by Louise Purnell and Malcolm Reid.
The main plot however revolves around young Basanio who is Jeremy Brett looking to marry Portia who is the wealthiest young woman around and she's got many suitors. Brett's a nice kid but kind of a spendthrift with his money. He's got an old indulgent friend in Antonio played by Anthony Nicholls who is both a merchant and a moneylender as well in competition with Shylock. He charges a lot less interest and undercuts him in business. That gives Nicholls a lot of pleasure because he doesn't like Jews at all, he's one proud anti-Semite.
So Brett needs a backer and Nicholls would like to, but as we would say today he's got a cash flow problem as all his money is tied up with goods at sea in his mercantile business. For past and present slights. Olivier names as his collateral a pound of Nicholls's flesh.
For those who've never seen the play these disputes are arbitrated by the Duke Of Venice. And the Duke who is Benjamin Wittrow has a novel interpretation.
Over the years as anti-Semitism has become more odious Shylock has become a more sympathetic figure. For centuries he was given the crooked nose, the funny way of speaking and was considered the blackest of villains who gets his in the end. As I said before Shylock is in fact trying to assimilate as best he can, but the people's prejudices are smug and self serving. And his is a natural reaction of a father who doesn't like his daughter's choice of a husband. After all she's marrying a Shegetz in his culture.
Even if you're not liking how Olivier sees Shylock he certainly is always interesting and to watch. As this well cast ensemble doing The Merchant Of Venice.