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  • 12/22/2004

The Merchant of Venice

A pound of flesh, but not a drop of blood. Four hundred years on, Shakespeare"s satirical nightmare on the theme of the kosher ritual retains its power to offend, to challenge, to subvert, and to trigger debates on antisemitism in canonical English literature. His Jew, Shylock, is not crouching in some estaminet of Antwerp but right up on stage, flinging defiance in his oppressors" teeth, devastating their hypocrisy and cruelty, angrily asserting the only identity available to him within the gentiles" culture and, in a final speech, lacerating Christian Europe"s reliance on slavery. But he is also grasping, cantankerous and, in private, appears to equate his daughter with money; he winds up being brutally humiliated, and further abased by having his comeuppance made subordinate in narrative importance to the final, simperingly romantic "ring" scene between the lovely Portia and her impetuous suitor Bassanio.

Hollywood legend Al Pacino has made a name for himself playing cops, gangsters and members of the Mafia – but in his latest film he gets the chance to play one of the most famous Jewish characters in English literature. The Merchant Of Venice, a new adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, sees Pacino as the money-lender Shylock – and he slips into the role with ease, bringing a sympathetic edge to a controversial character.

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