|Granted I've never seen this play live, but this is definitely the best and most iconic version of Shylock.|
Brace yourselves, this might be controversial but since when do I shy away from that. I go home after a lone day, and I read or watch Shakespeare and try to write...because I am better than you. Tonight I rented on Demand my favorite Shakespeare play; The Merchant of Venice. Those of you who know it, good for you, and for those of you who don't...you're an asshole. But it concerns a man named Antonio (played in the film by Jeremy Irons) and the story goes that a 'close friend' Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes) desperately wants to court a woman named Portia (Lynn Collins) who lives in Belmont which I assume is a tiny island off the coast of Venice. Here's the problem. Bassanio is a do-nothing, just a pretty boy with a lot of passion. Antonio his friend is a merchant...hence the name 'Merchant of Venice'. Long story short (too late), Antonio wants to help him so much that he gives him license to borrow money from the Jew of Venice, Shylock (Al Pacino) who is a money lender because Jews back then couldn't own businesses. Shylock complies but not before reminding Antonio that he's a piece of shit and giving the condition that if he is not paid back, the forfeit will be a pound of Antonio's flesh ...literally. How's the Vera cliffs notes? They agree and the deal is made and that's as far as I'm going because for chrissake read some goddamn Shakespeare.
|Artist rendition of Portia fighting off suitors.|
On to my point, aside from the fact that there are always women disguised as men and the other way around particularly in his comedies (Twelfth Night, Midsummer, this play, etc.) There is always a special and unspoken relationship between certain male characters. Ask yourself, why would Antonio agree to this insane condition on Bassanio's sake? He's always seen in the play as being so overtly kind and almost a doormat to the much younger and prettier Bassanio. He is literally willing to put his life on the line for him. It's quite similar to the relationship that Iago and Cassio have in Othello. And no, I don't think this is an Elizabethan bromance. It can be argued that Antonio's loyalty to Bassanio is stronger than Bassanio's loyalty to Portia.
|The debt to be paid. He hath laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains.|
In Shakespeare, the women who have relationships with each other are usually ones of mutual respect and friendship. Much like you would find on an episode of Sex and the City. Yet the director of this particular film likes to play up the shall we say flighty relationship between Portia the most beautiful woman in Belmont and her BFF Nerissa, to the point where it's not so subtle.
|Portia doesn't need suitors, she has Nerissa.|
There's another element, it's quite small but it's become an iconic Shakespearean line and most people that use it today don't even know that it comes from this play. Shylock has a daughter Jessica who decides to renounce her Jewish faith to marry a man called Lorenzo. She dresses in a man's disguise to escape and says; 'do not look at me for I am much ashamed of my disguise ...but love is blind'. Indeed it is. Lorenzo would love Jessica as a man or woman. Because love is blind. Ok, enough redundancy.
In the end, everyone marries each other, save for one character; the Merchant. I would argue that the merchant faces just as bad of a fate as Shylock. He is left alone because of his identity. Shylock is a Jew, and Antonio is gay. Not giving much away, when Shylock asks for his bond to be fulfilled as the money was not paid back to him, Antonio and Bassanio have perhaps the most tender moment between two humans I've ever seen. Antonio asks for his hand to hold him through this whole cutting out a pound of flesh being removed thing, and proclaims love for him...of course this is probably a love of friendship, but still. It's Nicholas Sparks tenderness. If it were me I'd be asking everyone to hold my hand and then probably pass out. And yet, it's deeply meaningful in subtext. And for the first time you see compassion on Bassanio's face. I feel that's actually pretty important. Not even when he wins Portia's hand in marriage does he show such emotion. It reminds me a lot of how Romeo reacts at the death of Mercutio. Yes, we all know what happens in the end, but the sorrow at the loss of a ...shall we say friend, is very powerful.
|So many iconic soliloquies in this play, this is from the 'quality of mercy' speech given by Portia in drag.|
Now, this is not the only play that has somewhat homosexual subtext and characters; Mercutio from Romeo and Juliet, Banquo from Macbeth, even Hamlet to a certain extent. But hey, argue with me all you want, I haven't drawn a line in the sand. I'm just finding recurring themes that I want to address (where my theater geeks at?). If people to this day are still debating whether or not Shakespeare actually wrote all of Shakespeare which you can read all about here , then I get my gay themes in Shakespeare hypothesis. Clearly I miss grad school or something. Anyway, below is the trailer. At least watch the film. Aside from the Zeffirelli 1969 version of Romeo and Juliet, this is as close to the original source material as you're likely to get in cinema.