Shakespeare Uncovered (2012–…): Season 3, Episode 2 - The Merchant of Venice with F. Murray Abraham - full transcript

F. Murray Abraham, who has played two great Jewish "villains," including Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, one of Shakespearean comedy's many "excluded" figures, explains the European anti-Semitism in Shakespeare's time.

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- What would you do if you
knew you were despised?

If you were ridiculed,
humiliated, resented?

If you had the chance
to take revenge,

would you?

This is the choice facing

one of Shakespeare's most
vilified characters, Shylock.

The play has
polarized audiences,

but's impossible to ignore.

Shylock may be
fictional, but he's alive.

He's with us.

He forces us to ask ourselves,

what does it mean
to be different?

How does it feel not to belong?

Shylock is not allowed to
belong because he is a Jew.

But in this play
nothing is what it seems.

And few present
themselves as they really are.

Lives will entwine in ways
that no one had wanted.

Nothing ends as
people had intended.

This play could be

one of the strangest
journeys you can take.

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"Shakespeare Uncovered"

was provided by...

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Cornell Memorial Foundation...

The National Endowment
for the Humanities...

Exploring the human endeavor...

The Polonsky Foundation,

Dana and Virginia Randt,

Elaine & W. Weldon Wilson,

the Lillian Goldman
Programming Endowment,

the LuEsther T.
Mertz Charitable Trust,

Jody and John Arnhold,

and by contributions
to your PBS station

from viewers like you.

Thank you.

If I say "the
Merchant of Venice,"

people will probably
think Shylock,

that he is a Jew.

That he's a victim or a villain.

Either way, he's
a major character.

They'll think the
play's about him,

but it's not.

He's not the merchant of Venice,

and the play is not a tragedy.

It's a comedy.

The play involves Shylock,
the Jewish money lender,

and Antonio, the
Christian merchant.

In commercial
16th-century Venice,

these two business men will
become dangerously entwined.

But the play starts out
as a romantic comedy.

A young man Bassanio,

basically, a fortune hunter,

needs money to woo
Portia, a rich woman.

His good friend, Antonio,
the merchant of the title,

is more than happy
to borrow the money

to lend to his friend,

so they find a Jewish
money lender named Shylock

who agrees to lend it to them.

So we have a man
in search of a wife,

and his friend the merchant
who will help him to woo her.

The merchant Antonio

will be prepared to
use his good credit

to borrow money for
his friend Bassanio.

Antonio is rich and successful,
but something's not right.

- In sooth, I know
not why I am so sad.

It wearies me.

Why then, you are in love.

- Fie Fie.

- Actually, I think he could
be in love with Bassanio.

- Here comes Bassanio,
your most noble kinsmen.

- Antonio welcomes him

even though he knows Bassanio

is coming to borrow
money to woo a woman.

I don't understand how
you can play Antonio

without considering
that he is gay.

- Well, tell me now
what lady is the same

to whom you swore
a secret pilgrimage

that you, today,
promised to tell me of.

- In Belmont is
a lady, richly left.

And she is fair and fairer

than that word of
wondrous virtues.

And her sunny locks

hang on her temples
like a golden fleece,

and many Jasons
come in quest of her.

- If Antonio has
feelings for Bassanio,

it must be hard hearing
him talk about a woman.

- Be assured.

My purse, my person,
my extremist means

lie all unlocked
to your occasions.

- As far as Antonio
is concerned,

I think he does dearly love him,

and he's besotted with him.

He has no choice.

- Try what my credit
can in Venice do,

that shall be racked
even to the uttermost

to furnish thee to
Belmont, to fair Portia.

- Oh!

- The devoted Merchant
will put himself in debt

to help his beloved Bassanio.

Antonio is lost.

It's a tough situation.

I think we've all been there.

- With Antonio's help,

Bassanio may be able
to woo the wealthy Portia.

- She lives in an idealized
place called Belmont.

Given the status
of this heroine,

it's fair to imagine a
17th-century villa like this.

Bassanio's right.

You'd need a lot of money
to impress these people.

Living a comfortable
life attended by servants,

Portia should be happy.

But this is not
your usual comedy,

and so, like Antonio, she's not.

- By my troth, Nerissa,

my little body is a
weary of this great world.

- You would be, sweet madam,

if your miseries were
in the same abundance

as your good fortunes are.

- She's miserable
because her father's will

controls whom she can marry.

All suitors are set a riddle.

- Your father was ever virtuous,

and holy men at their
death have good inspirations.

- Whatever her father's wisdom,

Portia is trapped
waiting for a suitor.

Maybe her answer lies in Venice.

- Back in the city,
the hopeful Bassanio

is planning to try
his hand with Portia

but he will not be able to
unless he secures his loan.

And this will bring
Antonio, the merchant,

to Shylock, the money lender.

It should be straightforward,

except they loathe each other.

In Venice, the Christian
Antonio could roam freely,

while the reviled
Jewish Shylock,

would have had
to live behind walls.

It was here that the very
first ghetto was created.

As a Jew, Shylock
knew he'd never belong.

I've played this
role many times,

and I understand
why he has captured

the imagination of generations.

The earliest moviemakers
were inspired by Shylock's story.

I think everyone
understands Shylock.

Whether they understand
the length to which he goes,

that's another story.

But they absolutely understand
what it means to be an outsider.

Everyone's been a teenager
what's more outside than that.

Antonio must now borrow
money from Shylock,

one business man to another.

But they have a history.

Antonio has routinely
humiliated Shylock,

and as a Christian,

he's lent money
without charging.

Now it's Shylock's
commercial rival and persecutor

who's comes to seek his help.

- 3,000 ducats.

- When he first meet him,

he's funny, defensive,
angry, and calculating.

- Aye, sir, for three months.

- For three months.

Mm. Mm.

- He's a nasty piece of work.

He is someone who's
accumulated a lot of gall,

and he hates Antonio.

- For the which, as I told
you, Antonio shall be bound.

- Antonio shall become bound?

- He hates the Christians,
he hates his competition.

- This is Signor Antonio.

- But the play insists, oddly,

that he has also
occasion and reason

to have accumulated
so much anger.

- How like a fawning
publican he looks!

I hate him for
he is a Christian,

But more, for that
in low simplicity,

he lends out money gratis,

and brings down
the rate of usance

here with us in Venice.

He hates our sacred notion.

You call me misbeliever,
cutthroat dog,

and spit upon my
Jewish gaberdine.

And all for use of that
which is mine own.

Well then, it now
appears you need my help.

- I wanted to talk to the
actor Henry Goodman

about the relationship between
his Shylock and Antonio.

- This is a man who
wants to publicly shame me.

It's not just a nasty comment
as he passes by my house,

which is in the
ghetto, closed off.

This is a man who
feels it's his duty

to humiliate and diminish
me every single day.

So I feel about him wariness.

I say I hate him,
and I do hate him.

But in day to day life,

what I had to do is say "hello,
good evening, how are you?"

To the man that I hate,

who I know at any minute

is going to lecture
me, spit at me,

and all the things
that we have to believe

he says Antonio does.

- But you do hate him.
- Absolutely.

- Another time,
you called me 'dog'.

And for these courtesies,

I'll lend you thus much moneys?

I am as like to
call thee so again,

to spit on thee again.

- Having been
maltreated for so long,

it's like I cannot
believe this guy,

after everything he's
done to me, needs me.

- Shylock then comes
up with a strange offer.

He will lend money,
not for interest,

but against a pound
of Antonio's body.

- Okay, this is payback time.

And in the moment,
he thinks of something

that if this works out,

he'll be utterly
dependent on me.

Let the forfeit be nominated.

For an equal pound
of your fair flesh,

to be cut off and taken

in what part of your
body pleaseth me.

- The bargain is
potentially lethal.

Yet, we've only
just begun the play

and it's supposed
to be a comedy.

All a bit of a puzzle, really.

I wanted to explore this
with two friends and experts.

- I would say that this was
one of the most subtle plays

in introducing the main figures.

Antonio's sadness isn't
explained in the beginning.

Even's Bassanio's affections,

whether they tend towards
men or towards women,

or towards both

isn't quite clearly
established early on,

so that, I think for audiences

used to Shakespearean
comedy, romantic comedy,

there would have
been some confusion

about what exactly
is going on here,

what don't we know,

and how soon will
Shakespeare tell us.

Where is that pound of
flesh gonna come from?

- It does seem like Shakespeare

left the question open
deliberately at the beginning.

In fact, it seems explicitly

from any part of your
body that I choose.

And that leaves
open the possibility,

as I think everyone...

Certainly everyone
in the late 16th century

would have immediately thought,

"ah, what part of
the body would a Jew

want to take from a male?"

And you expect that it's
circumcision or worse.

- But maybe the contract
was a kind of private joke.

- What is he doing?

Why does him what that?

As he says,

pointless stipulation,

because he
can't eat it, sell it.

It's not mutton, it's
not this and that.

What does he want it for?
- Yeah, it is bizarre.

- And all I could imagine

is that he wants to frame
it and put it up on the wall.

Every time he walks
through the room,

he's going to want
to see it on the wall...

"that's Antonio."

- When he has friends
in, "take a look at that."

- Whatever Shylock intends,

Shakespeare had set
out to write a comedy.

And, so, now that Antonio

has borrowed the
money for his friend,

Bassanio is free to
woo that wealthy woman.

But remember, she is unhappy.

According to her father's will,

she must marry the first man
who selects a specific casket.

He has a choice of three.

The one that contains
her portrait wins Portia.

I can imagine the casket
scene being set here.


- What says this leaden casket.

- We're in a world of
fairytale choice right.

You choose the right
casket, you get the princess.

- Here, do I choose!

Oh hell!

- So far, no suitor has
made the right choice.

- The men who have shown
up seem to have come from

a United Nations of
Europe and beyond

to try for her hand.

And she has no respect
for, basically, any of them.

- Gold, silver, and lead.

- She's in a
difficult situation,

because she is dealing
with a very oppressive father.

She cannot choose
because of her father's will.

- Interesting that they put her
up on a pedestal behind him.

It's almost like a
slave's auction block.

I've never saw that before.

- Give me a key for this.

- In a way, of course,

that's exactly
what is happening.

- She is an heiress.

And of course, marriage
in the 16th century

was a matter of property.

The woman was property,

but also bringing property
from one place to another.

And, so, this is definitely

a mercantile transaction
that we are talking about.

- What's here?

- The actors from
Shakespeare's Globe theater

have reassembled three years
after their original production

to reconsider the play.

- Oh, sorry. How long...

- They're rehearsing the scene

where we first see
Portia bemoaning her lot.

- Have you seen any, or
has it been a long time?

- We use the word "choose"
in this scene repeatedly,

but there is no real choice.
- There is no choice.

And we're at the mercy
of their brains or otherwise.

And she knows that it is
something that has to happen.

- Exactly.
- She's not trying to avoid it,

because there's no way out.
- No.

She's cloistered.

She has no freedom.

She's a woman of
great intelligence

and independence that
she's not allowed to live.

- Okay, shall we
give this one a go?

- O me, the word "choose!"

I may neither
choose whom I would

nor refuse whom I dislike.

So is the will of
a living daughter

curbed by the will
of a dead father.

Is it not hard, Nerissa,

that I cannot choose
one, nor refuse none?

- But there is glimmer of hope.

- Do you not remember,
lady, in your father's time,

a Venetian?

- Yes, yes!

It was Bassanio, as I
think he was so called.

- Portia will have to wait
until her Bassanio reappears.

In this play, the tangle
of love and money

seeps into every relationship,

and we are about to see
another dimension to Shylock.

Shylock is a widower,
but he has a daughter.

Shylock and his
daughter Jessica...

That's a very
tricky relationship.

He doesn't know a thing
about raising a daughter.

All he knows is he wants
her to be a good Jewish girl.

So what he's faced with

is being very strict and at
the same time very loving

without being able to
express his love for her.

It's a frustrating hard
position for him to be in.

The first time we meet
his daughter Jessica,

it seems the
father-daughter relationship

has completely broken down.

But we don't know why.

- I'm sorry thou wilt
leave my father so.

Our house is hell!

- I think this is
one of these cases

with the father
and the daughter,

where we actually
learn very little.

We don't have home
with the Shylocks.

- Instead, we are
confronted with Jessica

who apparently has
a Christian boyfriend

and is having her
servant help her to elope.

- Give him this letter,
but do it secretly.

And, so, farewell.

- In the play as written,

you never see, really,
any of their relationship

between her and her father.

- So we improvised a scene

that was then
translated into Yiddish

because we didn't want
to do cod Shakespeare.

And also, it sort of
emphasized their otherness

that they would not
have been speaking

the same language as
the Italians in Venice.

- Jessica!


- We improvised as
real father and daughter

possibly those kind of
arguments you would have had.

Like, "don't walk away from
me when I'm talking to you."

And the daughter saying,
"why are you being like this?

I told you, I'm not listening."

- It's a kind of classic
sociopathic pattern...

- that someone who has
been constantly being spat on

and kicked and beaten

couldn't fight
back in the street,

and his only outlet
for anger was at home.

- I mean...

My casements.

- Frustrated, Jessica
has made up her mind.

- In a tragic blend
of love and money,

Jessica and her Christian
lover take their chances,

leaving with much
of Shylock's wealth.

- Here, catch this casket.

It is worth the pains.

- Descend.

- I will make fast the doors

and guild myself with
some more ducats

and with be with you, straight.

- Now, by my hood,
and gentile and no Jew.

- If e'er the Jew, her
father, come to heaven,

it shall for his gentle
daughter's sake.

And never dare
misfortune cross her foot.

- Beshrew me, but
I love her heartily.

What, art thou come?

- When Jessica elopes
and leaves her father,

she has run out
with part of his soul.

I don't think she is
seeing this through at all.

I think it's a wild moment

with this frustrated
teenage girl.

She really has not thought
it beyond this moment,

this exciting, thrilling
moment of escape

that simply breaks his heart.

- She's someone who definitely
doesn't think of consequence.

I think she's swept up.

She's looking for an
escape. And it's exciting.

And she's a young woman.

I think effectively she wants
to wound him at that moment.

- It is total betrayal.

We do not hear her
ruminate about this.

We do not hear her
divided in any way

She doesn't confide
to anyone we hear

about "should I do
this, shouldn't I do this?

What will Shylock think?"

She abandons him at
the first available moment.

- I think the play
turns emotionally

when Jessica elopes.

It is, for Shylock,

the fundamental
insult to his being,

and I think we feel in the play

the deep turn, the
knife being turned in him,

and the rage that
has already been there

spiking at that point and
never actually receding.

- We don't see Shylock

but the loss of his
daughter and his fortune

is parodied cruelly
by Antonio's friends.

- I've never heard a
passion so confused,

so strange, outrageous,
and so variable

as the dog Jew did
utter in the streets.


"My daughter! O my ducats!

O my daughter,
Fled with a Christian!

O my Christian ducats!

Shh. Shh. Shh.

"And jewels... two stones,

two rich and precious stones."

- Why, man, all the boys
in Venice follow him, crying,

"His stones, his
daughter, and his ducats!"

- Shylock must have
been in shock and despair.

- It's a questioning of
everything one believes.

If you're wrong
about your daughter,

what else are you wrong about?

- Watching the play today,
we sympathize with Shylock.

But we don't know
how his predicament

would have been perceived
in Shakespeare's Britain.

- I'm meeting a
historian by the Globe

in what would have been
Shakespeare's local church.

Do you think Shakespeare
knew any Jews?

- That's a really
tough question,

and obviously, if he had
met any Jews in London,

they would have had to have
been pretending to be Christians.

So, unless he was
deeply friendly with them

and perhaps went
back to their homes,

he wouldn't have
known they were Jews.

- Since 1290,

when the Jews are
expelled by Edward I,

there technically shouldn't
have been any practicing Jews

in the whole of England.

Any of Jewish heritage, who
might have been in England,

would have to have had
to convert to Catholicism,

or by Shakespeare's
time to Protestantism.

- What would happen
to them if they didn't?

- They would have been fined.

They almost certainly would
have been roughed up quite badly.

England didn't
have an inquisition,

but it certainly had a set of
church courts and lots of jails.

Shakespeare's world
is one that's defined

in binary opposites.

We're good Protestants,
everybody else is evil.

- In England, there was a
particular abhorrence of Jews

dating from Biblical times.

- Jews killed Christ.

That's the worst sin.

Their major horror
was the blood libel

that there were nasty
Jewish rabbis lurking about,

ready to kidnap, capture,

murder, and bleed
out young children

for religious ritual.

They're like early
modern horror stories.

- These fantasies could
be exploited at any time

to incite hate crimes

or, believe it or
not, to entertain.

- Just before Shakespeare
wrote "The Merchant of Venice,"

there had been a
stormingly successful revival

of a play about a Jew

written by his rival
Christopher Marlowe.

The play is "The Jew of Malta,"

starring Barabas,

a caricature of a villain,
a pantomime character,

who was accused
by the Christians

of committing all the atrocities

that Jews are supposed
to do and more.

And this is the theater
where it was first performed.

I've never been here before.

Apparently, all that's
left is the foundation.

This is it.

This was where
it was first done.

This is thrilling.

I played Barabas,
and I loved playing it.

Set against the backdrop

of a Christian and
Ottoman conflict,

Barabas is happily amoral.

He poisons nuns, smuggles
gold, and betrays Muslims.

Too bad, he ends up
in the boiling cauldron

he'd intended for his enemy.

- As for myself, I
walk abroad at night

and kill sick people
groaning under walls.

Sometimes, I go
about and poison wells.

And now and then, to
cherish Christian thieves,

I am content to lose
some of my crowns,

That I may, walking
in my gallery,

see 'em go, pinioned
about by my door.


I love this place.

Shakespeare would
have known this play.

We don't know what
he thought about it.

- "The Jew of Malta"
was a blockbuster,

so Shakespeare decided
to write his own Jew,

in "The Merchant of Venice,"

which was initially called
"The Jew of Venice."

In Shakespeare's play,

we've reached a tipping point.

Shylock's world
has fallen to pieces.

His daughter has abandoned
him, stolen from him,

and eloped with a Christian.

But the pivot of this play

is love and money,
risk and fortune,

and the tables could be
about to turn in Shylock's favor.

Shylock has lost his daughter

but Antonio, too,
may have losses.

Word is that his
ships have sunk,

and Antonio may not
be able to repay his loan.

Shylock will be given
the power to hit back.

Out on the street,

Shylock meets two of
Antonio's mocking friends

who had helped
his daughter escape.

- You knew, none so well as you,

of my daughters flight.

- That's certain.

I, for my part, knew the tailor

that made the
wings she flew withal.

- And Shylock
for his own part...

- The scene turns
when Bassanio's friends

test out what he would do
if Antonio's ships are lost?

- The Devil may be her judge.

- Let him look to his bond.

He was wont to call me
usurer, let him look to his bond.

He was wont to lend money
for a Christian courtesy,

let him look to his bond.

- Why, I am sure, if he forfeit,
thou wilt not take his flesh.

What's that good for?

- To bait fish withal.

If it will feed nothing else,
it will feed my revenge.

- He hath disgraced me

and hindered me half a million.

- Shylock's answer has
taken them by surprise.

But at last, he will
speak his mind.

- He hath laughed at my
losses, mocked at my gains.

And what's his reason?

I am a Jew.

- They see a man
pushed to such extremes

that he speaks from
somewhere existentially, deeply,

"explain to me
the logic of racism."

- Aah!

Hath not a Jew eyes?

Hath not a Jew hands, organs,
dimensions, senses, passions?

- This speech was the reason
why I wanted to do the play,

because I felt
like a lot of people

needed to make a plea

for understanding and tolerance.

And, uh...

And 2015, 2016, 2017,

this speech and this play

has never been more vital,
pertinent, and necessary.

- 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?

- It's fury, it's frustration.

It's that moment
when you explode

with the freedom of
being able to say or do

exactly what you feel.

- If a Jew wrong a
Christian, what is his humility?



If a Christian wrong a Jew,

what should his sufferance
be by Christian example?



The villainy you teach
me, I will execute.

And it shall go hard,

but I will better
the instruction.

- If you keep doing this
to me and my people,

I'm going to fight back,

and I'm going to fight back in
the way you have taught me,

that the violence
that you have used,

I've learned it from you.

- Shylock will have
his pound of flesh.

Leaving us wondering

whether his speech
is a plea for tolerance

or a justification of violence.

- It's both. It's both.

That's the strange
effect of Shakespeare...

To force you to feel
how this is working

to justify for Shylock
irrational murderousness

that he knows will
get him nothing,

except the murder
of this one enemy,

as he intends it legally,

and at the same time,

to the amount of
pain that's there,

the amount of human presence

that we are called
upon to share.

- The pain of the
outsider never goes away

and it had a special
resonance for Venice in 2016...

The 500th anniversary

of the founding of
the Jewish ghetto.

An international cast assembled

to prepare a
production of the play.

- I thank thee, Jew, for
teaching me that word.

- Antonio.

- Karin Coonrod
was the director.

- Two things provided
more, that for this favor,

he presently become a Christian.

- It's an incredible
experience to be here

and what it means,

is it brings together
the space and the time.

And, so, to be doing this piece,

once in a millennium
experience opportunity,

to do this piece

and bring this international
company together,

is a holy experience.

- You have, five different
actors playing Shylock.

- Yeah.
- Why?

- I think Shylock is an
outsider, an immigrant, an alien,

and I wanted to approach
him from different perspectives.

I didn't want to see
one person interpret it,

especially here in the ghetto.

I wanted to see each
scene a different Shylock,

and bring them all together.

So we have one woman,
we have an older man,

we have a younger
man from India,

a Venetian man,

and a Croatian man
who also lives in Venice.

It's about London,
it's about New York,

it's about the West,
it's about all our greed.

And it's not Shylock
who can be singled out

as the greedy one, you know?

The others... the others
around him are the wretches.

- It's a play for our time?

- It is exactly... A
play for our time.

- Pushed to extremes,

Shylock insists he
will claim his bond.

And yet, the play
is still a comedy,

and we have to return
to Portia and Belmont.

According to her father's will,

Portia must accept
the first suitor

who picks the right casket.

To her relief, so far
none of them have.

But now it's the turn of
her favored Bassanio.

She's even tempted to cheat.

- I would detain you
here some month or two

before you venture for me.

I could teach you
how to choose right.

- Unh! Unh! Unh-unh-unh-unh!

- At last, Bassanio
makes his own choice.

- What find I here?

Fair Portia's counterfeit!

If you be well pleased with this

and hold your
fortune for your bliss,

turn you where your lady is

and claim her
with a loving kiss."

A gentle scroll!

- But is this really a
big happy moment?

I'm not so sure.

- Bassanio is... eh...

He's a problem for me.

I don't like him.

And at the same time,
I'm charmed by him.

It's a mark of a real hustler.

You know he's not a good
guy, but at the same time,

you're kind of pulling for him,

because he's so
good at what he does

and he's very attractive.

So the casket scene is tricky.

Despite my doubts,

Portia marks the surrender
of herself and her goods

with a precious
gift for her husband.

- I give them with this ring,

which when you part
from, lose, or give away,

let it presage the
ruin of your love.

- Ah.

Portia's maid Nerrisa and
Bassanio's servant Gratiano

also declare their
love for each other

and exchange rings.

- But within moments,
any joy is banished.

- Sweet Bassanio.

- News arrives of
Antonio's shipwrecks.

He cannot repay the loan.

- Shylock's bond will be
tested in a court of law.

The surprise is Portia,

determined to
help her betrothed,

will disguise herself
as a male lawyer

and attend the
trial with her maid.

Shylock will have
his day in court.

- The bond will enable him to do

what he has been
dreaming of doing,

which is to get
rid of his enemy,

the enemy who sums
up all the enemies

that he's had to
deal with in his life,

and he can do it legally.

- To cut a man's flesh is
completely against his faith.

He knows this, but
his rage drives him on.

And it clarifies his
hatred and his irrationality.

It's a terrible thing
that he is going to do,

and I think it's killing him.

The trial opens.

- Bassanio attempts
to offer Shylock money

instead of the bond.

- For thy 3,000
ducats, here is 6,000.

- If every ducat in 6,000
ducats were in six parts,

and every part a ducat,

I would not draw them.

I would have my bond.

- But he is about
to be approached

by someone that
no one recognizes.

It's Portia, disguised
as a lawyer.

And she tries a
very different tack.

- Do you confess the bond?

- I do.

- Then must the Jew be merciful.

- On what compulsion must I?

Tell me that.

- The quality of
mercy is not strained.

It droppeth as the
gentle rain from heaven

upon the place beneath.

It is twice blessed.

It blesseth him that
gives and him that takes.

- Portia doesn't
sound like a lawyer.

- She says this is
beyond the courts,

this is beyond the King's power,

this is God's gift to us.

As a character,

Portia then is, in a
sense, breaking script

with the very legalese world
that she has just entered.

And perhaps that's a sign

that this truly her
passionate moment of belief

that she can change something,

that she can change
the terms of this world.

- Mercy is above
this sceptered sway.

It is enthroned in
the hearts of kings.

It is an attribute
to God himself.

- There's a magnificent logic

and an honesty and a
kindness and an insight

and a sensitivity which
I'd never seen apparent

in almost all the
people around me.

She takes me to a place

where I think not
only is she wise,

but she's... It's not
just purple prose.

There's a beautiful humane
logic to what she says.

Be bigger than nastiness.

- And yet he insists
upon his bond.

- My deeds upon my head.

I crave the law.

- Shylock will have
his pound of flesh

taken, we now
hear, from the heart.

- You must prepare
your bosom for the knife.

- O noble judge!
Excellent young man.

- He has brought, it turns out,

a balance to weigh
the pound of flesh,

he's brought a knife.

So the expectation is that

he will be awarded
the pound of flesh

and is prepared to take it.

- Give me your hand Bassanio.

- Staring death in the face,

Antonio reveals
his true feelings.

His words have significant
implications for Portia.,

- Commend me to
your honorable wife,

tell her the process
of Antonio's end,

say how...

I loved... you.

- Antonio is willing
to pledge his own life,

his own body, his own blood,
his own pound of flesh for...

Because of Bassanio,

and that actually
makes him more alive

than he was at the
beginning of the play.

- For if the Jew do
cut but deep enough,

thou'd pay it instantly
with all my heart.

- Bassanio responds
with his own pledge.

- Antonio...

I am married to a wife

which is as dear
to me as life itself.

But life itself, my
wife, all the world

are not with me
esteemed above thy life.

I would lose all high,
sacrifice them all,

adhere to this
devil to deliver you.

- Your wife would give
you little thanks for that

if she were by to hear
you make the offer.

- Portia will not
forget this moment,

but the trial must continue.

- And you must cut this
flesh from off his breast.

- The law allows it,
and the court awards it.

- Suddenly Portia intervenes

- Tarry a little!

There is something else.

This bond doth give
thee here no jot of blood.

- If Shylock sheds any blood,

all his goods will
be confiscated,

and he will die.

The choice is his.

- All he has to
do is to stab him,

but he'll die.

And that's the stop moment.

He has to think,

"will I do this at the
cost of my own life?"

And the answer is, no, he won't.

- Now the court
simply crushes Shylock.

For merely threatening
the life of a Venetian,

his life and lands are forfeit

unless he agrees
to one condition.

- That for this favor...

he presently become...

a Christian.

- The scene is the
most emotionally fraught

of the whole play.

The Christians have
made a mockery of mercy.

Shylock is broken,

yet Antonio will survive.

- I always feel as
an audience member,

that I'm glad he doesn't do it.

But there's another a part
of me that wants him to do it.

- I completely agree.

I think the play is demonic

in encouraging that part of you

that you don't
like to say is there,

that wants to say, "go for it.

To hell with it being
legal or not legal, go for it."

- And all of us have
been humiliated,

to watch somebody act
out a response to that.

- But then, God knows,
the world we live in

brings home the full force

is that you have to find a way

of living in civil society
without allowing murder,

legally or illegal,
to take place.

You have to figure out a way.

Otherwise, there is no state.

Otherwise, we're living
in a terrifying community

of violent animals

and not of people in a society.

- Shylock's pain has
been so palpable,

and yet this is supposed
to be a comedy.

And the lovers have
yet to be reunited.

- But, you know,
it isn't such a jump.

In this scene, there's
a real deep melancholy

and, I think, doubt.

Portia has saved Antonio,

but it's come at a price.

She now knows how
much he loves Bassanio.

And as she is leaving,

she and Nerissa play a
trick on their husbands

that has the
potential to go sour.

Pressed to take a
reward for her services,

Portia says she will take only
the ring that she gave Bassanio.

- And for your
love, I'll take...

this ring.

- Good sir, this ring
was given me by my wife.

And when she put it
on, she made me vow

that I should neither
sell, nor give, nor lose it.

- Bassanio refuses,
but Antonio intervenes.

- My Lord Bassanio,
let him have the ring.

- Antonio wins.

Gratiano is dispatched
with Bassanio's ring.

He too will later surrender his.

- My Lord Bassanio
upon more advice

hath sent you here this ring,

and doth entreat your
company at dinner.

- The last act will begin

with all that had
passed in the trial

and the damage that
this may have done

to the couples' relationships.

- We do set this up,

Portia sets this whole thing up,

and I make a very good argument

for actually giving the
ring to me, Balthasar,

the lawyer who
saved this man's life.

So actually in many
ways, that's not hurtful.

But what is hurtful
is the declaration

that I haven't banked on seeing

which is what I see you
say to Antonio in court.

And I also just see the
nature of the relationship,

which is a very deep love.

- And that's a threat
to, my relationship...

- There's a massive
third party there.

- With this in mind,
they run the scene.

- My Lord Bassanio
gave his ring away

Unto the judge that begg'd it

and indeed deserved it, too.

- What ring gave you, my lord?

Not that, I hope, which
you received of me.

Sweet Portia...

If you did know to
whom I gave the ring,

if you did know for
whom I gave the ring,

and would conceive
for what I gave the ring,

and how unwillingly
I left the ring

when naught would
be accepted but the ring,

you would abate the
strength of your displeasure.

- If you had known
the virtue of the ring,

or half her worthiness
that gave the ring,

or your own honor
to contain the ring,

you would not then
have parted with the ring.

- Portia's game has
backfired horribly.

- Nice.
- I feel kind of bad now.

Yeah, yeah.
- Dirty again.

- I thought this was
going to be a fun reveal,

but actually, oh, my God,

just hearing you talk about
your passion for the reason,

your passionate cause,

is deeply wounding.

You know, you have no idea

how much you've
hurt me and who I am.

- With all they now
know about each other,

the couples must make
what future they can.

Nothing has ended as
people had expected.

There are no winners.

We are left with the
burden of unspoken pain.

- The last act is about
how you deal with things

that you are not actually
directly addressing,

how you deal with
them obliquely.

What you are dealing
with mostly in Act 5

is Portia's recognition
that her husband has

some kind of deep
emotional obligation,

connection to Antonio,

and she needs to
find a way to break it.

And it's broken or stretched,
if we could put it that way,

via the game of the rings.

It's never directly confronted.

It's never discussed.

- As for Jessica,

she joins her new Christian
husband in Belmont.

Shakespeare gives her
no lines about her father.

This production imagined
her feelings in prayer.

- Shylock haunts Act 5.

He's not present,
he's not mentioned,

but he haunts it.

- And we could say that Act
5 of "The Merchant of Venice"

is a brilliant device

for making us think about how
we deal with trauma indirectly,

how we negotiate
with ghosts in the room

without ever openly saying
that's what we're doing.

- "The Merchant of Venice"

is hardly what we see
as a comedy today.

It's a play with dark shadows,

and the character that casts
the longest one is Shylock.

Shylock will not go away,

because we haven't
answered his questions.

We can't explain why we
still persecute difference,

why we reject the outsider,

why we still refuse to
see each other's humanity.

- Funding for
"Shakespeare Uncovered"

was provided by...

The Joseph & Robert
Cornell Memorial Foundation...

The National Endowment
for the Humanities...

Exploring the human endeavor...

The Polonsky Foundation,

Dana and Virginia Randt,

Elaine & W. Weldon Wilson,

the Lillian Goldman
Programming Endowment,

the LuEsther T.
Mertz Charitable Trust,

Jody and John Arnhold,

and by contributions
to your PBS station

from viewers like you.

Thank you.