The Merchant of Venice

By Reyna Schaechter This summer, Shakespeare in the Park, housed in Central Park’s Delacorte Theater, is reviving The Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare in the Park has become an annual tradition, and because demand for tickets is so high, I arrived at the park at 7:00 AM to receive two tickets for that evening’s performance.The Merchant of Venice , written by Shakespeare between 1596 and 1598, addresses the anti-Semitism in society at the time. Bassanio, a Christian Venetian, turns to Jewish moneylender Shylock for a loan, naming Antonio as the loan’s guarantor. Shylock agrees under the condition that if Antonio does not repay him by a specific date, Shylock gets to cut a pound of his flesh off. When Antonio defaults on Shylock, Shylock takes him to court, prepared to take his revenge. However, when Portia, a rich heiress, points out a flaw in the contract, the law turns on Shylock and he is forced to convert to Christianity against his will.

I will confess, I had to read the plot summary through a few times to grasp all that was happening. And that was after I saw the show.

Shakespearean English is more difficult to comprehend than the English we’re used to. I think that productions of Shakespeare must be very active in order to keep audiences awake and attentive. Though the court scene in which Shylock’s future is determined was gripping, it was more a result of Shakespeare’s brilliance than the doing of any director or actor. In other scenes, I often found my mind wandering.

Although we have all come to love Al Pacino, his accent threw me off. He spoke in a heavy modern Brooklyn accent, which led me to believe that director Dan Sullivan was attempting to modernize the storyline. However, the Elizabethan costumes screamed “17th century” to me. Bodices, stomachers, kirtles, ruffs and cloaks were all present in the production. Brooklyn didn’t even exist when these garments were fashionable.

The one thrill of the show was seeing famous figures live. Al Pacino, for example, received an ovation when he entered the stage. In addition, at the end of the show, a bunch of fans crowded around the stage door (myself included). I was lucky enough to take a picture with him.

If you’re in the mood to get up at 5:00 AM, wait for six hours in Central Park, sit through an almost three hour show, but then have the opportunity to take a photo with Al Pacino at the end, then go see The Merchant of Venice.

TICKETS: Free tickets for Shakespeare in the Park are distributed via the free line at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park and on the web: www.shakespeareinthepark.org