Friday, March 4, 2011

The Merchant of Venice (1973)

"All that glisters is not gold."
- The Merchant of Venice, Act 2. Scene 7

Not too long ago I found this 1973 BBC version of The Merchant of Venice on YouTube. I was immediately interested because although I had read about this play in Charles & Mary Lamb's Tales From Shakespeare, I had never read or seen the play preformed before. I've also heard good things about this play and was excited to see it.

"In Belmont is a lady richly left,
And she is fair, fairer than the word,
Of wondrous virtues."
- The Merchant of Venice, Act 1. Scene 1

Storyline: Young Bassanio is in love with fair Portia and needs money to go courting. Using his friend merchant Antonio as his collateral, he borrows 3,000 ducats from Shylock the Jew. According to the will left by Portia's father the man who wishes to win her hand must first choose between three chests of lead, silver and gold. Bassanio chooses correctly and gains her hand in marriage, while Portia's maide Nerissa marries Bassanio's servant Leonardo. But when ill fortune leaves Antonio penniless and the debt comes due, Shylock demands repayment in the form of a pound of Antonio's flesh. The case is brought up before the Duke of Venice where Portia and her maid Nerissa in disguise as lawyers take on the argument, extracting the letter of the law. As a subplot Shylock's own daughter Jessica, in love with Lorenzo elopes and converts to Christianity.

"Nature hath framed strange fellows in her time."
- The Merchant of Venice, Act 1. Scene 1

Because this is an older TV production the costumes and sets aren't very extensive. There are only about three or four screen sets on which scenes are played and they aren't very colorful or elaborate. One of the props I especially liked was at Portia's house where three boxes are displayed on a revolving table. 
Costumes are set in the late Victorian era and are nice but nothing extraordinary. The costumes did reminded me of the styles worn in Daniel Deronda, only not quite as elaborate. I thought this similarity was interesting and I saw further similarities between these two classics in their subject of Jews and Christians. 

"If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? 
if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?". 
-The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene I

Despite this film's slower pace I really enjoyed the acting. I was surprised and pleased to see some familiar faces in this older version. This film features: a very young Joan Plowright as Portia, handsome Jeremy Brett as Bassanio, charming Benjamin Withrow as the Duke of Venice, and the amazing Laurence Olivier as Shylock. Definitely no faults to find in their acting, I do think Joan Plowright was a bit too old for the role of Portia (older than Jeremy Brett's Bassanio) but I enjoyed her pretty ways.   

I recommend this to anyone who is interested in older BBC dramas and Shakespeare in particular. Unfortunately I don't think it's available for purchase on DVD.

Here's some lovely quotes from The Merchant of Venice:

"If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men's cottages princes' palaces. It is a good divine that follows his own instructions; I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done, than to be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching."
- The Merchant of Venice, Act 1. Scene 2

"The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose."
- The Merchant of Venice, Act 1. Scene 3

"But love is blind, and lovers cannot see
The pretty follies that themselves commit."
- The Merchant of Venice, Act 2. Scene 6

I also recognized this bit which Henry Crawford reads to Fanny Price in Mansfield Park 2007.

"The moon shines bright: in such a night as this,
When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees
And they did make no noise, in such a night
Troilus methinks mounted the Troyan walls
And sighed his soul toward the Grecian tents,
Where Cressid lay that night."
- The Merchant of Venice, Act 5. Scene 1

I can't believe this Shakespeare week is almost over! I've really enjoyed posting about Shakespearian things!

Very Truly Your's,


Meenakshi said...

Stumbled upon this blog while blog walking...n so glad that i did!
I too read Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare in my seventh grade...just found a link to read those tales again..brings back such happy memories...Thanks!
Very interesting blog!

Bethany said...

Love this play. (I might just love them all. ;-)

There is a newer version with Joseph Finnes which is very well done (it isn't altogether clean, which is very sad).

I hadn't heard anything about this one, so I enjoyed your post.

Charity U said...

This is one of my favorites of Shakespeare. :) Hah, I was scrolling down quickly and came to the MP pictures and went "wait, wait, wait, they're in that?" And then I saw what you said and all became clear to me. ;)

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