“In converting Jews to Christians, you raise the price of pork” utters one of Shakespeare’s keenly drawn characters.
He certainly had a fair observation about the interplay between religion and economics. The Globe Theatre’s production of The Merchant of Venice deftly combines comedy with the play’s darker themes and provides an outstanding evening’s entertainment.
The play isn’t usually associated with humour but Rebecca Gatward’s production brings out the fun in the text. There is a playful and light air about the entire first half, with notable performances from Pippa Nixon and Craig Gazey, even though their characters Jessica and Lancelot Gobbo seem to be thoroughly allergic to anything remotely Jewish. Jessica’s urge to convert to Christianity can be hard to watch for any committed Jews, but it provides a powerful warning to parents of all faiths, if they don’t provide their children with a faith that is loving and supportive.
Is the play anti-Semitic? Shakespeare was just too clever to be reduced to a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Shylock does receive fairly rough justice, but it is justice nevertheless. He isn’t the sort of person you’d want as your bank manager, his interest rates are worse than UK inflation at the end of the 80’s and he does pass up various opportunities for redemption.
Several of the characters are virulently anti-Jewish and don’t get punished, but they don’t actually commit an indictable offence. The Merchant of Venice raises difficult questions but the current production is as stunning as any that has graced the West End in recent years.
The Merchant of Venice
Shakespeare's Globe, New Globe Walk, London
Runs from 29 June 2007 to 6 October 2007