Despite the numerous deviations from the book in the film adaptation of The Merchant of Venice, I was still able to appreciate both works. However, I enjoyed the film more. I enjoyed the film more because the visual elements enhanced the emotional intensity of the plot. The plot was far more emotional in the film because of the focus of Antonio’s melancholy and the portrayal of Shylock.
The loneliness of Antonio is touched upon in act 1, scene 1 of the play, “In sooth I know not why I am so sad./I wearies me, you say it wearies you;/But how I caught it, found it, or came by it;”(ll. 1-3). Antonio speaks this line to Salarino and Solanio, two of his close friends. Antonio outlines his loneliness, as well as his confusion as to why he feels the way he does. However, instead of demonstrating empathy for his dear friend, Solanio proposes a reason for Antonio’s depression in act 1, scene 1, “Then let us say you are sad/Because you are not merry;”(ll. 47-48). The film matches this exchange word-for-word. However, the immense sadness weighing on Antonio stems from his loneliness. The film depicts this loneliness in a unique manner. The film depicts the alleged affair of Bassanio and Antonio. One such example of this is the conversation between Antonio and Bassanio in act 1, scene 1 of the play, “That today you promis’d tell me/’Tis not unknown to you, Antonio,/How much I have disabled mine estate”(ll. 121-123). In the written text, this exchange takes place on a street, whereas in the film, it takes place in Antonio’s bedroom. An intimate manner, which is finances, is discussed in the most intimate of conditions. Further, in the film adaptation, at the end of this exchange, the two share a kiss. This further exhibits the loneliness felt by Antonio, as he loves Bassanio, but he lives with the knowledge that his feelings will never be formally reciprocated due to social repercussions of their relationship. Moreover, when Portia and Bassanio are married, and devote themselves to each other at the end of the play, the play ends. However, the film adaptation has Antonio recites the the first lines of the play for a second time. Antonio says for the second time, “In sooth I know not why I am so sad”(l. 1). This statement exhibits Antonio’s longing melancholy. The lack of empathy from those close to him may have catalyzed Antonio’s deep sadness. His inability to turn to those he loves in times of need as result of his condition render him in a deep sadness. Further, the stress and threat of alienation as a result of his feelings towards his de facto adopted son, Bassanio. Furthermore, this line is Antonio’s last in the film, signifying his lasting, weighing sadness.
The portrayal of Shylock was another contributing factor as to why I enjoyed the film more than the written play. In the written play, we are not given the context of the feud of Antonio and Shylock, but the film provides this. The opening sequence of the film depicts the financial district of Venice at the time. During this sequence, Antonio spits in Skylock’s face, as other Christians throw Jews off of a bridge. This additional sequence provides the context of both Shylock’s seething resentment, as well as the historical antisemitic. Further, this context also adds to the emotional weighting of Shylock’s speech in act 3, scene 1, which includes the lines, “…Cooled/ my friends, heated my enemies-and what’s his/reason? I am a Jew.”(ll. 50-52). The context of the suffering of Shylock adds an emotional weighting to the film which cannot be found in the written play. This not only adds depth to the character of Shylock, but also gives the reader another perspective. From the perspective of Shylock, we can empathize with his sufferings, and grant him our sympathy.