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The Merchant of Venice


William Shakespeare

The Merchant of Venice
average rating is 3 out of 5

Classics, Plays

R. Alex Jenkins

I swore never to read Shakespeare again: too long-winded, no discernable plots, boring and always antiquated, yet here I am... and, after reading six tragedies, this time it's a "comedy" (in sceptical quotation marks). This could be a tough analysis.

Although lighter than Shakespeare's tragedies, with its witty comments and humorous back stabbing, I'm struggling to call this humour. Is it enough to have funny segments comparing Prince Neapolitan to a horse because he talks about nothing else? Insinuating that his mother probably had an affair with a blacksmith?

The witty insinuations and famous quotes are everywhere - all that glisters is not gold, or, if you prick us do we not bleed? - but I still feel like raving at Shakespeare for so much waffle and clutter, although this being his earlier work, it's is less pompous than than his more esteemed plays.

As usual, there's lots of explanatory details left out. For example, how are Bassanio and Portia in love, married and long-term lovers from one act to another? Isn't Romeo & Juliet centered on romance, but also a tragedy, so why the convenient love-washing here? Well, it's about dialogue (a play) instead of about events, storylines and plots. It's about feelings, indebtedness and loyalty, with no time for explanations. We have to accept that.

Like so much Shakespeare, it's necessary to let it wash over your head and suspend reality to a point, to accept what's in front of you, to prioritize prose over fact. Seek poetry through words instead of via plots. I still struggle with it.

Luckily, this play is more direct and less flowery than complexities such as Hamlet, Macbeth ot King Lear, but more akin to Julius Caesar with its relatively straightforward dialogue. It's definitely not a blast, though, more like wading to shore through seaweed as opposed to fighting against sharks.

Anti-Semitism is also an issue and reading this as a "Jew" could be a problem for some, but this is safely neutralized by a feminist perspective, by a man writing potentially dangerous literature more than 400 years ago. It's impossible to take offence because of how well women are portrayed.

Next read? Another "comedy". No more tragedies for me.

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