the gapanese invasion is nigh!

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Monday, April 28, 2008

the merchant of venice: a look beyond the book


Having read the text of William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, I was expecting that watching the film adaptation was coming along the way. When it did, I had several expectations before finally sitting through the film. First, I expected that the comedy would be more pronounced in the film than in the original Shakespearean play. Next, I expected that the movie dialogues would be modernized and, therefore, more understandable to the audience than those used in the original form, which was in the Elizabethan English. Third, I expected that the film version would be more condensed to customize the Shakespearean plot into the limited audio-visual medium. Then, I expected that the film would carry on the bias I and other people read in the text against the Jews. Lastly, I expected since it is a period movie, it might be less appealing to me than most contemporary films.
These five expectations of mine received different ends in the course of watching the film. For one, I was right in predicting that I would better understand the comedy in the film version since I could see that element unfolding effortlessly before my eyes, unlike when I had to imagine the comedic acts in the book form. Also, I was surprised that the film retained the original Shakespearean dialogues but fortunately, most of them are more understandable than in the book form, perhaps because they are visually set into context. Furthermore, I was correct that a more condensed form was present in the movie by virtue of the shorter text, considering the limited audio-visual medium that the film is. Likewise, I did see the anti-Jew sentiments in the film as I did in the book form, but the film version seems to have been more sympathetic to the antagonistic character of Shylock. Finally, it surprised me again that despite the period costume and the Elizabethan English, I did not get bored watching the movie since the costumes were attractive and the dialogue was understandable.
After watching the film, I feel that I should point out a few comments on the audio-visual interpretation of the English Renaissance comedy. First, the film looks well researched because for one, its costumes were historically accurate to 16th century Venice. Second, the anti-Jew sentiments may have put Shylock in a more sympathetic light, but it only shows that social discrimination was present before as it is now and will still be present in the future unless it is seriously acted upon. Next, the use of Venice as film location made the film more authentic as the landscape and waterscape are visually realistic. Fourth, the casting is appropriate since the actors performed convincingly and brilliantly, from the veteran actor Al Pacino as Shylock to the younger Joseph Fiennes as Bassanio. Ultimately, the director tried and was successful in being faithful to the Shakespearean text because he interpreted the comedy without doing away from the original text and from the imagined 1700s Venice look.

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