The Work: Plays


1976, (6w 10m)


Set in the Jewish Ghetto of Venice, 1563, this play reworks not Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice' but the three stories from which Shakespeare wove his play. The core plot remains, the relationships are different.

SHYLOCK, a successful loan-banker with a passion for collecting old books, is a friend of the world-weary Venetian merchant, ANTONIO, whose long-forgotten godson, BASSANIO, a fortune hunter, seeks him out to borrow 3000 ducats for the wooing of PORTIA, an educated woman of the Renaissance, and an heiress.

ANTONIO must borrow the ducats from his friend, who unhesitatingly agrees but is offended when ANTONIO asks for a contract. His Venetian friend reminds him: the laws of Venice permit no dealings with Jews without contract. SHYLOCK angrily proposes an absurd contract for a pound of ANTONIO'S flesh to mock the laws of Venice. ANTONIO'S ships are wrecked. The pound of flesh must be forfeited. PORTIA argues that the contract is nonsense. She saves SHYLOCK'S life but not his fortune. ANTONIO loses a friend, PORTIA must marry a man she despises, JESSICA, SHYLOCK'S daughter, realises too late she's linked herself to a religious bigot.


"No, no, NO! I will not have it. I do not want apologies for my humanity. Plead for me no special pleas. I will not have my humanity mocked and apologized for. If I am unexceptionally like any man then I need no exceptional portraiture. I merit no special pleas, no special cautions, no special gratitudes. My humanity is my right, not your bestowed and gracious privilege."


Arnold Wesker's subtle rewriting achieves a double and wholly unexpected triumph …
Michael Coveney, Financial Times

Perhaps Wesker's finest play…
Clive Barnes, The Times