Queerying Antonio: Michael Radford's 'The Merchant of Venice' (2004) and the problem of heterosexism
Martín Alegre, Sara
(Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Departament de Filologia Anglesa i de Germanística)
||The logical preoccupation with how to represent Shylock after the Holocaust too often prevents stage and film directors from addressing in depth other problematic aspects of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, such as the nature of the intense relationship between Antonio and Bassanio and the meaning of the subplot involving Portia’s ring. Shylock’s progression from secondary character to protagonist, to the extent that many believe that he and not Antonio is the merchant of the title, makes it unlikely for these other aspects to be the focus of any production, whether for the stage or the screen. Yet, Michael Radford’s accomplished film adaptation of this play proves that solving the problem of Shylock’s representation for our times actually highlights other problems that Merchant poses for a contemporary audience. This is, precisely, the reason why despite its apparent classicism, Radford’s version turns out to be an intriguing adaptation that shakes spectators out of any complacent reading of the original text. In close collaboration with a superb Al Pacino as Shylock, Radford strikes all the right notes to please audience and critics concerned with post-Holocaust political correctness. His Shylock is more painfully vulnerable than ever to the ruthless, anti-semitic laws of the Venetian state and this vulnerability is what motivates the downright brutality of his outrageous, yet legal, claim on Antonio’s Christian flesh. Portia’s tight binding to the equally ruthless laws of patriarchal fatherhood and her brief sojourn in the world of men as a lawyer in drag bent on imposing an exemplary punishment on Shylock have always seemed strange companions for the Jew’s case. However, Radford’s decision to queer up Shakespeare by queerying Antonio makes perfect sense of this apparent mismatch. By suggesting that he is in love with Bassanio, a deliberate misreading introduced to validate for unimaginative audiences Antonio’s decision to risk his life for a friend, Radford gives new coherence to the play, integrating into a single unity Shylock’s vicious attack against the merchant, Portia’s role in Antonio’s defence and even the often overlooked ring plot.
||A version in Spanish of this article, with revisions, can be found in the journal Dossiers feministes, 21, 2015, of the ‘Instituto universitario de estudios feministas y de género Purificación Escribano’
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