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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Judi Dench Muse of Fire Shakespeare Interview


Happy Birthday Dame Judi Dench!


This is an exciting year for her, considering that she will do some more Shakespeare, by agreeing to join Benedict Cumberbatch in his BBC Hollow Crown version of Richard III. I can't wait for that!





Also, I just finished watching the interview she made for the great Shakespeare documentary Muse of Fire, which you can find here on the Shakespeare Globe Globe Player.

The interview is just over and hour long and it goes by quickly. I am one of those people who could sit and listen to her talk about the weather for hours and hours, so a one hour interview on her career doing Shakespeare is much too short.

I don’t want to ruin the interview for you, but there is one major part of what she says that really intrigues me, and I would like to share my thoughts with you.

She says that her least favourite Shakespeare play is Merchant of Venice. She apologizes to Will, but calls the play “ghastly” and she regrets ever having played Portia herself.

She says that it was the first play that she read as a schoolgirl, and the teacher  instructed the children to recite the play aloud, each reading six lines at a time. As Dame Judi puts it: “It ruined the play for me, completely ruined the play for me.”

She doesn’t go into too much detail about it, other than to say that the characters “all behave too badly” and she disliked the “terrible trick at the end” with Portia and Bassanio with the rings.

This breaks my heart. 

First, I hate to think that children can be so poorly served by their teachers as to turn them off a Shakespeare play for life.

Second, Merchant is my favourite play of them all, so it upsets me to think that she doesn’t enjoy it as much as I do.

But it really is not her fault, since this is arguably the most problematic of the “problem plays,” and the play has been grossly misunderstood for over 400 years.

She knew there was something wrong with the play when she says that the characters all behave so badly. She was onto something. Perhaps what confused her was the fact that the characters are so ill-behaved but are meant to be virtuous as well.

How do you reconcile the fact that Portia is supposed to be wise and merciful, when she is also a racist (towards Morocco)?

And how can Portia be a good girl, when Shakespeare gave her a name which means “pig?”

How can Bassanio be a good lad when he is trying to woo Portia under false pretences, acting like the prince he is not?

How can Shylock be the villian when Shakespeare wrote him as an auto-biographical character, and when the name Shylock means Shakespeare?

The first play I solved for this Shakespeare Solved series of adaptations was Merchant. I discovered that it is not a romantic drama, or romantic comedy, or comedic drama — the play is a bawdy, rude and offensive farce.





The Merchant of Venice was listed in the First Folio by John Heminges and Henry Condell — men who acted in the original production of Merchant — as a comedy.

It is supposed to be funny.

I have never seen any version of the play that makes you laugh.

My version makes you laugh.

I like to think that had Judi Dench, when she was a young schoolgirl, read the play or seen the play as the raucous and satirical comedy it is, she would have laughed her head off, and would have grown up enjoying The Merchant of Venice.

Cheers,


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