In what ways does the presentation of Shylock differ between the original text and the film, and why are there differences?Comparing the novel with the video

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I assume you mean the recent-ish Al Pacino version of Merchant of Venice. Well, linked to your question, one of the crucial decisions any director of this play needs to make is to decide how to present Shylock. An essay I get my students to do which looks at this goes like this: "Shylock: Villain or Victim?" Discuss. Basically in the text there is evidence to support both views so you need to decide how you wish Shylock to appear to the audience.

One of the crucial additions that the film of the play makes is that it starts the film with information talking about how Jews were persecuted in Venice at the time of the play, and shows this persecution, with Antonio spitting on Shylock. This supports the view that Shylock is a victim much more, having faced horrendous persecution and championing his people. The scene at the end of the film is also very poignant, where Jessica, although she is with her beloved Lorenzo, still obviously feels pity for her father, who has been forced to convert. The last scene where we see Shylock he is alone and an unbelievably tragic figure. The film therefore strongly supports the view that Shylock is a victim, which, inspite of his bloodthirsty nature and his singleminded pursuit of his "merry bond", is the impression that we take away with us.

teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Merchant of Venice in which Al Pacino stars as Shylock is the only non-silent filmed version of this play, which may reflect filmmakers' discomfort with the play's anti-Semitism. This movie alters the portrayal of Shylock, first, by providing a prologue not in Shakespeare describing the anti-Semitism in Venice in the 16th century. When we, the viewers, learn about the Jews locked into the ghetto at night and forced to wear red hats to identify them as Jewish, we begin to have sympathy for Shylock's outsider status. We also are shown Antonio spitting on Shylock, rather than simply hearing about it, which makes it more real to us.

While this Shylock retains the relentless and vengeful quest for justice of the original, he is at the same time made more sympathetic. The film shows the cruelty of his single-minded pursuit of justice, but it also reveals the cruelty and hypocrisy of the Christians who speak of mercy while at the same time humiliating Shylock and forcing him to convert to Christianity against his will. All in all, the film is a faithful rendition of the play, but seeks to soften the anti-Semitism to a level palatable to a post-Holocaust audience appalled by the idea of persecuting or stereotyping Jews. 

frizzyperm | Student

Crucially, in the movie they removed Shylock's early motivation speech. They removed Shylock's lines...

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.(40)
If I can catch him once upon the hip,
I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him.
He hates our sacred nation; and he rails,
Even there where merchants most do congregate, On me, my bargains, and my well-won thrift,(45) Which he calls interest. Cursed be my tribe
If I forgive him!

So we are allowed to see that Christians hated and abused the Jews. But they removed the part that says the Jews, naturally, hated the Christians back. And they removed the scene where he yells about wanting his daughter dead and his money back.They left all the faults of the Christians in the movie and removed nearly all the faults of the Shylock, except for his desire to revenge (which he explains he learned how to do from Christians), making the movie a simple childish parable of how a good Jew was abused and twisted by cruel Christians. 

But a man may be the victim of injustice and yet not be a complete angel.