As time changes, so do the interpretations of Shakespeare's dramas. Newer productions are supposed to appeal to modern audiences by reflecting current attitudes and cultural beliefs. Anti-Semitic viewpoints existed long before Shakespeare and his play, The Merchant of Venice, which is considered by many to be anti-Semitic. However, the reasons for anti-Semitic thought have changed greatly over the past century. Tension between Christians and Jews is one of the play's most important aspects, and is emphasized in earlier productions. In more recent productions, however, more weight has been placed on personal beliefs, and less on religion. Shylock's profession overshadows his faith. This change represents a shift in modern culture: looking at the individual beliefs, not the religion or ethnicity of a person to define his or her actions.
[...] In the attempt to stray away from the harshness of Komisarjevsky's interpretation, Langham ended up with something similar to Herbert Tree's Merchant. Jonathan Miller's 1970 production was one of the first that strayed away from making Judaism the sole reason to sympathize with or resent Shylock. This was achieved not just by the actor's (Laurence Olivier) portrayal, but also with costuming and set arrangements. The setting was in a late nineteenth century Venice that resembled London. Shylock was dressed in a “shiny top hat (with skull cap underneath), and sleek morning coat” (Moore 350). [...]
[...] The Merchant of Venice is an excellent example of a play that can be molded to fit common social opinions and beliefs. It is anti-Semitic, but it does not have to and should not be presented in the way that it was originally. The Elizabethan era is over and anti-Semitic beliefs should be gone along with it. Different productions through the years addressed the problems with and the reasons for anti-Semitism. Religious disputes between Christians have become financial disputes between non-Jews, and bankers that just happen to be Jewish. [...]
[...] In 1947 the Stratford-Upon- Avon Festival brought The Merchant of Venice to the stage. Reviewers did not favor it. The Shylock in this staging had no passion and was neither “villainous nor heroic” (The Times 1947). John Ruddock played Shylock so dryly that “when he ventures to ask if a Jew has not passions like other men we can only assume that he has (The Times 1947). Religion could not be dwelled on in this production because so many people lost their lives in the years preceding this staging just because of their religion. [...]
[...] There are three Jews in The Merchant of Venice: Shylock, Tubal, and Jessica. Only Shylock is meant to be disliked by the audience. His behavior is strange and detestable. He is sneaky and no one trusts him. If religion is the underlying force guiding his behavior, then Tubal and Jessica should be clones of Shylock, yet they are not. The next year, Peter Sellars directed a production of Merchant that was very different from any earlier production. With a setting in Southern California, this Merchant attempted to address cultural divides that reached far beyond Christians versus Jews. [...]
[...] The Times reviewer eloquently explains Shylock's behavior: is a Jew behaving as a Jew must needs behave in an anti-Semitic environment.” Tree showed the English audience that if they were to expect respect and kindness from the new residents of their country, they had to be willing to give those things first. In Theodore Komisarjevsky's 1932 staging of Merchant, Shylock's religion is still an important aspect, but is not emphasized in the same fashion as Tree's interpretation. Shylock's character is very one-dimensional: he is a villain, and the should not sympathize with him. [...]
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