This article analyzes Michael Radford's The Merchant of Venice (2004) starring Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons. Engaging with W.B. Worthen's approach to Shakespearean performance studies, the article is concerned with the ways in which Radford utilises a return to period setting and costuming - after roughly a decade of radicalized adaptative strategies - in order to legitimize his film, particularly from the perspective of its treatment of race. The study is primarily concerned with the way in which this emphasis on historical accuracy marks an attempt on Radford's part to articulate connections that harmonize cultural differences and point to human commonality that transcends time periods, while also striving to absolve Shakespeare of the racism and ethnic prejudices that underpinned the culture in which he was writing. Through focusing on specific moments and characters (the film's context-laden opening sequence, the sympathetic and dangerously unproblematic portrayals of Shylock and Portia), the essay illuminates Radford's attempts to offer viewers a sanitized and "correct" version of Shakespeare's play, demonstrating how he thus misses out on the far richer possibilities of a text that dramatizes prejudice in a range of registers and that in its unsettling ambiguity problematizes the very notions of absolute authority that the film chases with such vigor. Ultimately, the essay seeks to demonstrate how through an emphasis on authorial intention and a simultaneous ignorance of the complexity of the source text, Radford's film appropriates Shakespeare too insistently for an uncomplicated vision of religious and ethnic tolerance.
Michael Radford,Al Pacino,The Merchant of Venice,Shakespeare,Performance studies,Authority,Film,Race,Racism,Adaptation