Photos Courtesy: Tabard Theatre

SAN JOSÉ, CA  -- In SHYLOCK, a monologue play written by playwright Mark Leiren-Young, based on the Jewish money lender character of the same name, in "The Merchant of Venice." Silicon Valley Shakespeare and The Tabard Theatre Company present the show, which may be seen in person, at the Tabard Theatre, or as a Streamed live performance online from June 4 to June 20. The play is directed by Tabard's Executive Artistic Director, Jonathan Rhys Williams, and  former Silicon Valley Shakespeare Executive Director Doug Brook plays  the role of  JON DAVIES, an imaginary actor who is playing the role of Shylock in an imaginary Shakespeare's Festival.


According to records, Shakespeare wrote  "The Merchant of Venice" between l596-l598 and registered it (under that name)  in the Stationer's Registration on  22 of July l528. However, "THE OXFORD SHAKESPEARE, The complete works  Second edition book, edited by John Jowett, William Montgomery, Gary Taylor and Stanley Well,  published by Clarendon Press," shows (on page 453)  SHAKESPEARE's play under the name of  "The Comical History of the Merchant of Venice, otherwise called The Jew of Venice,"  

If  the OXFORD SHAKESPEARE's  information  is accurate, our  question will  be: Why would SHAKESPEARE write a play about a Jew merchant for his English audience? Those familiar with English history know that while the Jews had been living in Catholic England since Anglo-Saxon times, they were banished  from England on 18 July 1290 for indeterminate time. Most of  these  English Jews were skilled individuals, who worked as doctors, goldsmiths and poets, but lending money was for most their primary source of income. So, because of  the ways  they were running their private money-lending institutions, added to different accusations against them by the English Christians, King Edward decided to  ban all Jews from England and seize their properties. The Jewish people could not return to England before  l655, after Oliver Cromwell orchestrated their return. This information, based on history, may exonerate "The Bard"  from being accused of vilifying the Jews in " The Merchant of Venice" as Davies' (the imaginary actor in SHYLOCK, claims,  in his soliloquy, because when "The Merchant of Venice" was written ( l596-1598)  no Jews were living  in England.

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So, we may conclude that Shylock the despicable Jew in Shakespeare's play, may just have been just an over- embellished portrait of any  money lender which he described as Jew in his play but was not based on a living one. And Shylock in Shakespeare's play, was not even a Principal character. When we read the printed copies of  The Merchant of Venice Shylock's name is NOT in the list of  its Principal Characters, but his name is at the end of the list simply described as a Jew merchant.

But in  SHYLOCK, written by award-winning author, screenwriter, director, journalist and playwright Mark Leiren-Young, his over an hour monologue, which we  may be described as a play-within-a-play, is focused in the actor who plays the role of Shylock (In a make-believe Shakespearean Festival) ranting against  Shakespeare's portrays  of, the Jewish character in his The Merchant of Venice"  play. and how  JON DAVIES  (Played by Doug Brook) who is playing the character in the Shakespeare's Festival) apparently represented his Shylock to his audience,  (at the Shakespeare's Festival) as such a despicable character, that Davies (Brook) tells us that he was spitted on the face by one of the theatre goers and that the Shakespeare Festival, was closed.  

SHYLOCK (the monologue) begins when from a dark stage, we hear the sonorous  voice of  Brook, (in his role as Jon Davies the actor who is playing the role of Shylock in the imaginary  Shakespeare festival)  shouting: " I will take his flesh to bake fish with all " the stage lightens  allowing the audience to see the actor, (Brook) wearing his Shylock's costume on a bare stage of the Shakespeare's Festival, playing his role of JON DAVIS the Shakespearean Actor.

" Flesh," is a word that will be immediately understood by those in the audience who are familiar with Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice,"  because in his play "The Bard"  used the sentence:  "A pound of Flesh" in the play to shock his audience. by demonstrating to them (in dialogue) the "despicable  nature of  Shylock.

We first heard about "The Pound of Flesh" when (In The Merchant of Venice) in the mouth of Antonio, a Venetian Merchant, when Shylock a Jewish Money lender, lends Antonio, money in Act I. in Act IV, those metaphorical words, to our horror, are going to become reality, because Shylock, the Jew lender, was given authorization, by the Venetian court, to actually cut a pound of meat from Antonio's breast. Antonio was a rich Venetian Merchant, but he lost his fortune when his ships sank, and  now is unable to repay the three thousand ducats(A ducat  (Considered a Duke's coin,  was the most valuable of all gold coins at the time,  because it  had a purity of  99.47% Venetian gold) that he had borrowed from Shylock. In the play, when  he  received  the coins, Antonio was so sure that he could repay his debt , in three weeks, that he signed a document authorizing Shylock the money lender, to cut a pound of meat close to his heart if he could not pay the amount of money that he borrowed from him on time.  Now in act IV Both Antonio and Shylock are in the Venetian court with  Bassario (The nobleman who was the one who needed the money that Antonio borrowed) Bassario, a nobleman,  was able  recover his fortune, and he is offering the court to pay Shylock Antonio's debt and even double the amount, but to honor their origin written document with Antonio, (who Shylock hates) he tells the court that since Antonio himself could not pay him on time, he prefers the  pound of meat from Antonio's breast knowing that it may kill him in the process.

And if the mention of the flesh at the opening of SHYLOCK (the play) had not been enough, after a defense of the Jewish people, and proving that they are as human as the Christians because they have two eyes, two hand and bleed when hurt, BROOK in his role of JON DAVIES playing Shylock mentioned it again when he tells the audience. "The pound of flesh I bought is dearly mine and I will have it."  

We need to mention here, that when Brook's  words, playing his role of Davies the Shakespearean actor,  are perfectly understood by those patrons who are familiar with Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, play, for those watching SHYLOCK at Tabard, or online, who are unfamiliar with it,  Davis ranting about a pound  Flesh in the opening of his long monologue  will don't make any sense.

And to many, the premise in SHYLOCK, (the play) is confusing. The monologue is described in the program as a play where  Jon Davies (Dough Brook) a Shakespearean actor who plays the role of Shylock in a production of the Merchant of Venice in an imaginary Shakespeare Festival, played his role of shylock in such despicable manner, (Brook's  soliloquy does not describe what he said) that  after playing it he was "disgraced" as an actor by hundreds of people and that his Shylock was portrayed so despiteful,  that  woman who saw his performance  spat on his face. As if that was not bad enough, the Shakespeare (fictitious) festival was closed,

One of the questions left unanswered in SHYLOCK, is why would a Jewish actor (Davies is described as Jewish) who is proud of being Jewish wanted to portrait a Jewish (character on a play) as evil? Shakespeare's Shylock is greedy, hates Antonio and maybe even will be happy to kill him by honoring their contract. But Shakespeare's Shylock has a daughter that as a father he protects and loves. and when Jessica (his daughter sells his wife's ring; he shows his humanity by being deeply hurt. He even accept Christianity at the end.

Another unanswered question in SHYLOCK, (the play) is why would Davies (Brook) in his role as Davies spends over an hour in a  monologue defending the integrity of the Jewish people with many valid arguments, wanted to degrade his heritage by portraying a Shylock (in The Merchant of Venice) the way he did which apparently not only offended his audience but closed the production?  

As a monologue, however, what  makes SHYLOCK worth watching is that  it is masterfully interpreted by Brook (in his role as Davies the Shakespearean actor who play Shylock). His pacing is correct, his pronunciation of the dialogue perfect, his words are uttered with the proper intonation and his timing is perfect. During his soliloquy, He is also able to portray a multiplicity  of emotions, and  manages to keep our attention for over an hour, as he tries to defend his portrayal of Shylock, the play's character, who in his opinion as a Shakespearean actor, is the most notorious, blood-thirsty, bogeyman, clown in the Elizabethan drama..

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If analyzed, SHYLOCK's  soliloquy  presents good points about  Jewish stereotypes, and ways in which Jewish people had been portrayed in novels and plays.  The soliloquy would be more interesting. however, if it had a definite beginning a middle and end, because it gets monotonous at times and actually nothing changes in the dialogue.

As for the ending. we wished that we (the audience) had not been told from the beginning of SHYLOCK (the play)  that the Shakespeare Festival had been closed, because that killed the surprise. If could have been more effective to end SHYLOCK (the monologue) with a loud voice  (Off the dark Stage) shouting the announcement that  the Shakespeare Festival was closing after tonight. That could have given SHYLOCKS ending its needed impact.

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