The Merchant of Venice (2004)

In this post I will write on the benefits a film adaptation of one of William Shakespeare’s plays has over a silent read-through of the play. In particular, I will focus on the 2004 film adaptation of The Merchant of Venice, which is based on a Shakespearean play by the same name.

Below are (a few of) the advantages an audience has when watching the film versus reading the play:

  1. The film can utilize lighting
    1. For example:
      1. The film is able to play with lighting to further set the tone of scenes – an element that a read-through of the play is unable to provide. This is best exemplified when Jessica hands Lancelot the letter she wrote for Lorenzo, wanting Lancelot to deliver it to him. When Jessica hands Lancelot the letter he holds it up to the light to inspect it, but Jessica quickly takes his hand and draws the letter back into darkness; this tells the audience without using dialogue that the letter is shrouded in secrecy. However, when Jessica leaves, Lancelot holds the letter back up to the light, probably indirectly insinuating that all secrets will come to light or be brought out into the open soon enough.For example:
      2. Another example in the film of lighting allowing for further meaning within a scene occurs when Bassanio is choosing a casket, hoping to win Portia. In this scene, Portia is standing by a window – a window alone may represent escapism/freedom – while Bassanio contemplates his choice. However, no matter the stricken look of anxiety darning Portia’s face while she waits to hear Bassanio’s choice, the light falling into the room from the window onto Portia’s face foreshadows and promises that Bassanio’s choice will not disappoint her. Among other meanings such as enlightenment and happiness, sunshine represents warmth and comfort and therefore speaks as loudly, if not louder, than any lines the characters can utter in the play or film.
  2. The film can utilize costuming
    1. For example:
      1. In the film, Antonio is usually darned in blues and cool colors throughout the story whereas Shylock is usually seen wearing crimson red. Blue is most commonly associated with harmony and faithfulness. Red is associated with blood, war and danger ( These colors may allow the audience to draw a further contrast between Shakespeare’s interpretation of the Christian-Jew relationship that Antonio and Shylock represent and with it the Christian policy of mercy/forgiveness versus the Jewish mandate of Justice.
  3. The film can omit or expand scenes from the play
    1. For example:
      1. The film omits the banter between Lancelot and his father in Act 2, Scene 2 where the two characters are first introduced at Shylock’s house. This is a very significant change because it alters the view the audience has of Lancelot and Gobbo’s relationship; it also changes the dynamic in the later scene where Lancelot and Gobbo go to Bassanio when Lancelot is seeking to leave his former master Shylock. Whereas in the play Lancelot and Gobbo’s bantering portrays an almost Oedipus conflict where the son is taking authority over his elderly father, the film’s lack of banter demonstrates the exact opposite, that the elderly hold more authority over the younger generation in Venice. And, the elderly having possession of the young makes the young a commodity.

For more information on film adaptations visit the links below:

  1. What is film adaptation?:
  2. Different types of film adaptations:

For a preview of The Merchant of Venice check out the official trailer!


Author: Emily

Senior at Florida State University. English Literature and Classic Civilizations major. Loves Shakespeare and Poetry!

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