Thursday, May 17, 2007

RE3: Merchant of Venice - Food For Thought

Well that's fascinating. I had assumed that the notes Portia refers to have to do with points of law and procedure so that she can pull off her impersonation of a "learned judge." In fact, in the film, Radford intercuts a silent scene of Portia conferring with Doctor Bellario before heading off to the Venetian court, and he is going over books with her. We realists want an explanation of how she could possibly step successfully into a court of law without benefit of a law degree, John Houseman's withering stare, or three attempts at passing the bar, dammit! In the line Gil cites, Portia refers to "notes and garments," so if the clothes are for her masquerade, why not the notes too?

So, do you mean to imply that Doctor Bellario provides the letter that tells Antonio some of his ships are safe? How does he come by it? I'm confused. And if the notes are not related to Antonio's ships, what "strange accident" is Portia referring to? I love a mystery.

And wow, I hadn't thought about Portia's question "Which is the merchant here? And which the Jew?" in this way. I have a book, Shylock: A Legend and Its Legacy by John Gross, which includes a set of pictures of various actors playing Shylock. In each, it's really, really clear that Shylock looks different from others: hat, gabardine, tallis, beard, etc. Additionally, Gil has alluded to early characterizations of Shylock as even more outrageous than we see today – red fright wigs and such. So, for what reason does Portia fail to distinquish Shylock from Antonio? Is it just a point of legal order, like saying "Will the defendant please rise"?


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