Monday, February 23, 2009

SHK--more on Shylock

Jacob Adler was an actor and producer in the thriving Yiddish theater scene on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the early 20th century. In his production of The Merchant of Venice, Adler spoke Shylock’s lines in Yiddish, while the other actors spoke in English.

In an interview for Theatre magazine in 1902, after his play had moved from the Bowery to Broadway, Adler had this to say about his portrayal of Shylock:

Shylock is rich enough to forgo the interest on his three thousand ducats for the purely moral satisfaction of his revenge. I say [he] would be richly dressed and proud of mien rather than the poor cringing figure time has made familiar. Antonio, on the other hand, is far from the chivalrous gentleman time has made familiar. . . The two men are confronted in a supposed court of justice, a court packed with Antonio’s friends, the judge openly committed to Antonio’s cause, the prosecuting attorney a masquerading girl soon to be the bride of his bosom friend, and Shylock alone against them all without counsel, without advocate, with nothing on his side but the law.

The verdict, of course, goes against him. A quibble reverses the case, Antonio and the court divide the spoils between them and–exit Shylock. That’s the end of him as far as Shakespeare’s stage direction goes. But having bought so dearly the right to his contempt for his Christian enemies, would he not walk out of that courtroom head erect, the very apotheosis of defiant hatred and scorn? That is the way I see Shylock, and that is how I have played him. 1

1. “Jacob Adler—the Bowery Garrick,” Theatre (November 1902): 18, quoted in Marjorie Garber, Shakespeare and Modern Culture (New York: Pantheon, 2008), 140-141.