From Chris Brown, our Shylock in the upcoming production of The Merchant of Venice…
It is always a pleasure to play the richness of Shakespeare, rich language and rich playing possibilities. I counted up the number of discoveries in Shylock’s lines that I’ve made since first reading the script: they amount to twenty, and this for only a medium-sized character who is in only five scenes. But he is a rich character.
Superficially he fits the comic type of the paternal heavy whom the young lovers must circumvent and defeat, and, for the rabidly anti-Semitic citizens of Venice, where the play is set, he is devilish as well. But Shakespeare is not content with that.
Instead he crafts a man who, albeit narrow in outlook, is capable of humor and verve, overlying anxiety and uncertainty, and of emotional attachment to his daughter and his deceased wife. His sad fate is to be goaded by the extraordinary hostility he confronts into reducing himself to the vindictive figure that everyone else expects and indeed wants, but Shakespeare has shown other possibilities.
One of them is something that Shylock himself does not fully understand, a motive in addition to the obvious ones for him demanding the famous pound of flesh from Antonio, the merchant of Venice. In the climactic trial scene, Shylock can only tell the Duke that, as some men for no seeming reason urinate at the sound of a bagpipe (Shakespeare doesn’t like bagpipes), so he cannot fully account for his hatred. See if you can detect the x-factor.