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Shakespeare’s Courtroom Comedy ‘The Merchant of Venice’ Is a Tour de Force in This Production by Cardinal Stage Company

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Cardinal Stage Company’s “The Merchant of Venice,” part of the Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences’ Themester “Beauty,” features an all-female cast. | Courtesy image

Cardinal Stage Company is adapting Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice for the 400th anniversary of the genius playwright’s death. This captivating story is not only beautifully written but also infused with themes that have resonated with audiences for centuries. Produced in association with Indiana University’s College of Arts and Sciences’ 2016 Themester on “Beauty,” the bard’s courtroom tour de force has been taken on by Cardinal Stage’s Artistic Director Randy White with an all-female cast.

Join Bassanio, a young high-born Venetian, as he tries to win over Portia, the beautiful heiress of Belmont. Needing money to become a possible suitor, he turns to his friend Antonio who has countlessly helped him in times of need. However, Bassanio needs to find a lender if he’s to get Antonio’s help, so he goes to a Jewish moneylender, Shylock. Chaos ensues.

“Look on beauty, and you shall see, ’tis purchased by the weight, which therein works a miracle in nature, making them lightest that wear most of it.”

Shakespeare challenged society’s views on beauty, claiming that it could be purchased and worn to conform to their standards, but that those who wore it the most were the least respected. His jab at vanity fittingly matches the Themester’s goal to reinvigorate our considerations of beauty as a core component of the human experience across the span of time and in diverse scholarly, social, and cultural settings.

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“If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example?

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the establishment of the Jewish ghetto in Venice. At the time, Venetian Jews were required to live in a ghetto protected by Christian guards, and even wear a red hat to make them easily identified. The Merchant of Venice’s character Shylock was written as a sympathetic character, perhaps to sway current societal views on the Jews and bring awareness to their similarities as people. His famous speech — “hath not a Jew’s eyes?” — redeems his character who up until that point is seen as a negative figure.

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“All that glitters is not gold.”

Although Shakespeare is more widely recognized for plays such as Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Macbeth, a lot of common expressions we use to this day can be traced back to The Merchant of Venice. You may recognize “all that glitters is not gold” or “but love is blind, and lovers cannot see, the pretty follies, that they themselves commit.” With ideas of tolerance and beauty becoming increasingly relevant in today’s society, this play is as relevant as ever.

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“The Devil can cite scripture for his own purposes.”

We live in an age where we speak through technology almost as much as we speak in face-to-face conversations. Things are lost through translation and spun in ways we did not intend. Context is now a very fine line that we must walk, and anybody can use information or quotes to support their point. Shakespeare’s plays are so popular because they seem to transcend time, and even though the themes evolve just as society does, they still remain pertinent. His ability to pick apart society is uncanny, giving us a look into our own surroundings like nobody else can.

Shakespeare’s plays can be produced in many different forms while still driving the same narrative home, such as Baz Luhrmann’s modern adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Cardinal Stage Company is doing the same with The Merchant of Venice, recreating the play with an all-female cast, and you’d best not miss it.

“Fair thoughts and happy hours attend on you.” —The Merchant of Venice

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by Benjamin Beane

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