What is Shakespeare's Merchant about?
In this dark adaptation of "The Merchant of Venice," Shakespeare's most controversial play, Jews are regularly hunted on the streets of a postmodern Venice (California) as if it were 13th century Europe. In the film's opening sequences a Jewish girl is raped in broad daylight while a woman watches, gleeful, from her living room window; toughs chases a young man in a yarmulke to the beach and beat him senseless. And Shylock, the money lender, is spat upon and threatened. In this atmosphere of lawless anti-Semitism Bassanio is forced to borrow money from his lover, Antonio. But Antonio's cash is bound up in his fleet of ships and so they proceed to Shylock's, where it becomes clear that Antonio is one of the anti-Semites who has plagued Shylock on the Rialto. Shylock agrees to the loan but exacts a forfeiture: a pound of Antonio's flesh if the loan is defaulted on by even a day. Meanwhile Portia, with the help of her father's executrix, is seeking the husband who can unravel her father's riddle to win her hand in marriage. After several suitors are rejected, Bassanio wins-but not without some help. Test after test ensues of each set of lovers and of the society itself. In the karmic ending Shylock, his daughter Jessica, Bassanio, Antonio and Portia are each bereft in their own way, making this version with its queer twist, more tragic even than Shakespeare intended.