The Play’s The Thing

It was one of the very few occasions when I diligently and meticulously applied myself to my books. We were putting up The Merchant of Venice for Prize Day at school – and I craved the part of Shylock.

I still remember what I wore; my Manx friend Therese Harris lent me a black smock – which I wore inside out to hide the spangles- and a long, black skirt that had been my project for Mary Inglott’s sewing lessons.

Memories of this came flooding back when a just-for-fun comment in a newsletter to which I subscribe asked “Now I wonder what a proposition letter from William Shakespeare to an Agent would have looked like?”

This is the result:
William Shakespeare to the Noblest Agent, Jonathan John Jason Justin Smythe-Smith.

Dear Mister Smythe-Smith,
I saw your bill posted on the tree just outside the pub, in which you state you are seeking new works which to produce at the Globe, the Sphere, and the Orb Associated Theatre Circle Limited, Incorporated.Believe you me, there will come a day when political correctness and vegetarianism will be a way of life, and so I propose that you select my play before all others, while the going is good.

Actually, I have to admit that at present I do not have an agent because he accused me of plagiarism and I dismissed him.As I was saying, I hereby propose a play called The Merchant of Venice – no, it is not the Jew you probably thought he was, but the Merchant Antonio, whom we see as suffering from inexplicable clinical depression at curtain up.

Before I continue, I would like to indicate that this play will offer several employment opportunities to actors currently without a job, because the cast may easily be plumped up to hundred, and the audience will turn up if you offer a couple of cameo appearances to actors of renown. It would also be revolutionary to introduce the concept of women disguised as men disguised as women – but let’s not get into this right now, there will be time enough later, when you recognise my genius.

Bassiano is one of Antonio’s clique – let’s just say that his was cupboard love. He wants the wealthy Portia to be his wife – but he lacks threw wherewithal. Suffice it to say that Antonio, muggins that he is, falls for this one too, and offers his all as collateral to the loan from Shylock. Shylock hates Antonio’s guts, but hopes he can take Antonio to the cleaner’s later, if he defaults. Antonio is cocky enough to “know” his ships will return well in time before the three-month deadline.

Exit Bassiano stage left, rubbing his palms at the thought of having obtained 3,000 ducats without a stroke of work. The others are ones whom I have named the alliterative Solanio and Salerio – and Lorenzo and Graziano to give an Italian shift to my dramatis personae list.

After all the play takes place in Venice, and it would not do to call them Tom, Dick, and Harry. Zoom to Belmont, where Portia is telling her handmaiden Nerissa that her goose is cooked if one of the half-dozen suitors cooling their heels in the hall outside suitors manages to pick the casket with her portrait inside for she will have to marry him, according to the conditions set out in the will of her father.I plan to have some exotic costumes for this play – the Moroccan Prince and the prince of Aragon, who of course choose the wrong chests, must be dressed in frippery and finery, inn their best bib and tucker, so to speak.

I will not bore you with the details – but suffice to say that the rest of the plot, and the countless sub-plots, involve court jesters or their equivalents, a disaster at sea, sundry love stories, men dressed as women dressed as men, a couple of unique betrothal rings, and revenge, as well as a couple of visual puns which will be played to the gallery.

Ah! I was nearly forgetting the salient part. Shylock tries to extract payment in “a pound of flesh” – and mark my words on this, too, my expression will become a quote which means “a debt repayment harshly insisted upon”, if in the future a preposition at the end of the sentence will be allowed.Portia to the rescue – she finds what the Maltese call “the raisin at the end of the black sausage” in the contract – the opposite of a loophole, perhaps, the irony of it all, in other words, and I hope you do not mind this circumlocution because I have found that convoluted language helps one understand tortuous plots better… now where was I…. oh, yes… Portia, in disguise as a lawyer, indeed a Daniel come to judgment, discovers that there was no mention of blood in the original contract.

So Shylock would have to cut the flesh “nearest to his heart” without shedding one drop of blood, which is an impossible feat, and thereby hangs a tale.Ah! But this is not all. When Shylock decides to take 9,000 ducats as forfeit, he is promptly accused of being guilty of conspiracy to kill a fellow human being.

All’s well that ends well (hey, that’s a good title, I think I will use it for my next opus) and I will be able to explain the intricacies – for there are many more – when we meet.Regards and May the Almighty bestow Fortune on you and Fame on your productions as He surely will if you will take this Play in hand.

William a.k.a. Bill Shakespeare


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