Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, agrees to lend Antonio, a Venetian merchant, three thousand ducats so that his friend Bassanio can afford to court his love, Portia. However, Shylock has one condition: Should the loan go unpaid, he will be entitled to a pound of Antonio's own flesh.
Meanwhile in Belmont, according to the terms of her father's will, Portia's many suitors must choose correctly from three caskets. Bassanio arrives at Portia's estate and they declare their love for one another before he picks the correct casket. Antonio falls into bad fortune and finds he cannot repay Shylock: A dramatic trial ensues to decide his fate.
©2008 Naxos Audiobooks; (P)2008 Naxos Audiobooks
It's very exciting to see the Naxos Shakespeare recordings appearing on Audible in the new enhanced format. If you can manage the extra space they take up, small enough in the grand scheme of things, the improvement in sound quality is well worth it. The crispness of the music and voices, and the stereo effects, come through particularly well in this recording.
That said, this is a tough play. Portia is probably the most appealing character in the bunch, but even she has a dark side: she is, after all, the main engine of Shylock's downfall. Anthony Sher gives a somber and dignified performance as Shylock: not necessarily a man more sinned against than sinning, but a man plenty sinned against.
Shakespeare, here as always, remains an unblinking observer of all sides of the moral equation. The Christians spit on Shylock, call him dog, do their best to make his business fail -- one of the only businesses that, by law, he was allowed to engage in. (It's an intriguing biographical footnote that Shakespeare's own father was brought up at one point on charges of usury.)
Shylock is no passive victim: he fights back with the one tool left him, the commitment of Venice to the rule of law. On the other hand, the awful judgement meted out to him at the end of the trial scene -- an economic straitjacket and a forced conversion -- is allowed to stand: I've seen the play done where Shylock is played as a stereotypical Jewish villain who gets a well-earned comeuppance. The attempts of many recent productions to build sympathy for Shylock are supported but are not required by the text itself. However nuanced the production -- and this one is finely nuanced -- this ambiguity about its sympathies makes it a very hard play to digest.
In other words, thought-provoking, unsettling, and worth every minute.
Fantastic, subtle sound effects, well cast, superbly acted, and, unlike the BBC version, it does not omit any lines - thus, we have a terrific audible rendition of Shakespeare's play.
Mother, book fanatic and librarian
A fantastic way to better understand olde english! Especially if you have a written copy you are following along with! I bought this for my son who was struggling trying to finish all his IB program! This saved the day! He was able to listen to it while traveling to and from school and truely understand it!!
"Very worthy, and rather dull"
This begins well- there is music, backround noises... it sounded good; Roger Allam was a satisfactory Antonio and the Bassiano had almost enough charm... But then it never boiled- never even heated up
The first warning that this was not going to be a fun spin through a Shakespeare comedy was when Shylock first spoke- for Shylock in this version is a very, very, very serious charecter. Not a single one of his jokes is played for a laugh- from first to last he is stern, sober and completely unlovable- he has no shades or moods- he is always grim and revengeful- his charecter never grows and he never grows in the least sympathetic- or in the least interesting. By producing such a PC Shylock they rip the living heart out of the play.
The next crashing failure was the clown, Launcelot- I don't think they were even trying to be funny. It seemed as if NAXOS had decided that this was a nasty, anti-semitic play and though they would record it faithfully, yet noone was to laugh in the process.
Emma Fielding as Portia broke the rule and did manage to sound amused, even manage a little laugh-but I don't think that she and her Bassiano even managed to convince themselves that they were in love, let alone the listener...
And so it dragged on, there was never any chemisty, never any real feeling, the court scene had no tension... No charecterisation- Lorenzo, Gratiano, Salerno etc. all remained interchangeable young men to the end.
In short it is just a faithful reading, the actors never really seemed 'off the book.'
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