Hear from the Merchant himself! We connected with Scott Michael Cooper to hear his thoughts on his role, and the presenting The Merchant of Venice in today’s society:
I play the namesake merchant, Antonio, of Venice. Essentially my character is the common thread in which the various other characters weave their plots of love, fancy, treachery and general Shakespearean chaos. Single-mindedly, caught up in my heart felt love for my friend Bassanio, I over extend my finances to help him on his quest to capture the heart of Portia. Unable to pay my debts, I end up begging for my life, and bringing all of this surrounding chaos into the ultimate courtroom finale.
This has always been an uncomfortable play for me, given the heavy anti Semitic plot and treatment of the character Shylock. By excising the final act of the play, and turning the focus of the play from a comedy to a tragedy, we have the opportunity to take a great piece of theatre and properly reflect the consciousness of our time.
This is especially pertinent given the times that we are living in today. We don’t have to look very far to see racism, bigotry and anti Semitism in western society, and even in our own local community.
The cavalier way in which the Christians treat the Jews of Venice, and of course this is really a reflection of England and all of 16th century Europe, is a reminder of where we’ve been as a supposedly cultured society.
Shakespeare developed Antonio as a popular, and charismatic leader of Venetian society, and at the time, his decision to force Christianity on Shylock was viewed as an altruistic gesture. By changing the tone of the play, with the elimination of the final act, that becomes more of a self defining act. Should I play it strictly as written, or try to inject some self-revelation, and realize that maybe I have gone too far. This is the most difficult part of the play for my character, come see how it turns out.