Timeless lessons from the bard

The Merchant of Venice

I watched the Maynardville production of The Merchant of Venice on Thursday evening. Roy Sargent’s poignant and compelling interpretation of the play holds many contemporary lessons for us, most notably of the danger of grudging racial co-existence acting as proxy to true reconciliation.

Without reconciliation the barriers remain – as do the hate and hurt and blind emotional insanity of groundless malice which has simmered and grown over generations of segregated ignorance.

We live in a country where unreconstituted prejudice still remains rampant, where, like in the play, interracial interaction appears for many people to be a means to an end – out of necessity, not of pleasure.

I am happy to say that not everyone is like this. In younger generations especially, there is an unprecedented level of integration, tolerance, “colour blindness” and a melting pot of multi-ethnic friendships, relationships and interaction.

Yet apartheid’s tendrils still have a hold over segments of this country. A teenager’s racially-motivated shooting spree in the North-West township of Skielik is a tragic reminder of this. What kind of family, one must ask, was that young murderer living in to have done such a heinous, shocking crime? For the 18 short years of his life what kind of vitriolic racist poison was he being indoctrinated with? It’s almost certain this boy has never come across Shakespeare’s eloquent case for racial equality in Act 3. Scene 1 of the The Merchant of Venice:

I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die?

The Merchant of Venice runs at Maynardville till 16 February. Book at Computicket.


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