The Merchant of Venice

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The Merchant of Venice is a play by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)[1].

The original text

Believed to have been written between 1596 and 1598, and possibly first performed at the court of King James in the spring of 1605, followed by a second performance a few days later.

The play was apparently not performed further in the 17th century and the next recorded production is in 1701, when a popular adaptation, titled The Jew of Venice, by George Granville was done. This became the preferred version for more than a century.

Translations and adaptations

Below are a number of versions

Bowdlerizations, travesties and other adaptations

Over the centuries the play has been adapted and/or satirized in a variety of ways. Below are those that have been performed in South Africa. For more detail, if available, go to the particular entry.

A bowdlerized adaptation, titled The Jew of Venice, was done in English by George Granville in 1701.

A travesty by Francis Talfourd called Shylock, or The Merchant of Venice Preserved is , was performed in South Africa in the 1860.

A burlesque version called Shylock, or De Old Clothes Merchant of Venice ("Grand Ethiopian Burlesque"), was also performed in South Africa in the 1860s.

A bowdlerized Dutch version by an unknown author, called De Jood en de Christen, of de Gevolge der Lichtzinnigheid, was performed in Cape Town in 1838.


The play has been translated and adapted into a number of South African languages over the years. Not all have been performed.

Translated into Dutch as De Koopman van Venetië by L.A.J. Burgersdijk (published in 1898) and by Edward B. Koster (published by Johan Pieterse te Rotterdam in 1903)

Translated into Afrikaans as Die Koopman van Venesië by D.F. Malherbe (Afrikaanse Pers Boekhandel, 1949).

Translated into Southern Sotho as Mohwebi wa Venisi by K.E. Ntsane (published by A.P.B. in 1961),

Translated into into Setswana as Morekisi wa Venisi by M.O.M. Seboni (publised by Lovedale Press, 1961).

Translated into Afrikaans as Die Koopman van Venesië by Anna S. Pohl (DALRO, 1969)

Translated into Northern Sotho as Mogwebi wa Venisi by N.C. Phatudi (Published by Maskew Miller Longman, 1985),

Translated into Afrikaans as Die Sakeman van Venesië by Tjaart Potgieter. Performed 1991.

Performance history in South Africa

Ironically yet understandably, given its racial theme, this play has been enormously popular in South Africa in the original and in translation. In the list below the text used is the original English one, unless otherwise stated.

1817: Performed in 5 July in the "The African Theatre" by the Garrison Players, with Captain Carter as "Shylock", and followed by Barnaby Brittle (Betterton).

1832: A performance by All the World's a Stage, with Mr Booth (as Shylock), was presented in The African Theatre on 7 January - ostensibly as Booth's farewell performance before leaving the colony (though he played again in November). Also presented were a "new Ballet Dance" called Jack at the Cape, or All Alive Among the Hottentots! and The Scapegrace (Buckstone).

1837: Performed in the "South African Theatre" by Vlyt en Kunst, led by C.E. Boniface, during January, with High Life Below Stairs (Townley).

1838: Performed in Dutch (in bowdlerized form as De Jood en de Christen, of de Gevolge der Lichtzinnigheid) in Cape Town by members of the Dutch amateur company Vlyt en Kunst in the Kaapschen Schouwburg in August, with Jantje Puk, of Den Doctor tegen Wil en Dank (a Dutch translation of Le Médecin Malgré Lui by Molière).

1847: Performed by the Garrison Players in the Garrison Theatre on Wednesday 8 September, with as an afterpiece My Daughter, Sir!, or A Daughter to Marry (Planché). The performance "for the benefit of the Infant Schools" in Cape Town.

1847: The benefit performance repeated by the Garrison Players in the Garrison Theatre on Friday 17 September with as afterpiece Jack Brag (Hook/a'Beckett)

1847: Performed by the Garrison Players in the Garrison Theatre on Thurday 9 December, with as afterpiece The Infant of Spain (Anon.).

1860: Shylock, or The Merchant of Venice Preserved, a travesty by Talfourd, performed by the Cape Town Theatrical Club in the Theatre Royal, as on 29 March, with Helping Hands (Taylor). The brass band of the Cape Royal Rifles also played.

1861: A burlesque version called Shylock, or De Old Clothes Merchant of Venice (and styled a "Grand Ethiopian Burlesque"), was performed by the Amateur Coloured Troupe in the Y.M.I. Institute and Club, Cape Town.

1898: The Merchant of Venice was presented by the Haviland and Lawrence Shakespearian & Dramatic Company at the Port Elizabeth Opera House January 14. Cast: William Haviland (Shylock).

1920: A significant production of this Shakespeare play was staged by the Cape Town Repertory Theatre Society as its début opened on 6 August 1920 in the Railway Institute Hall in Cape Town. The cast included most of the top amateur actors then active, and the design by S.J. Wray was the first to introduce the revolutionary ideas of Edward Gordon Craig to South Africa. In all, only eight performances were given in Cape Town and surrounds, but the production was a hit with both public and critics and managed to turn a tidy profit of £100. The first professional performance was apparently ***.

1928: Johannesburg Reps, Wilfred Patley as Shylock.

1947: Presented by the University of Cape Town's Speech and Drama department at the Little Theatre, directed by Rosalie van der Gucht.

1950: First performed in Afrikaans as Die Koopman van Venesië (D.F. Malherbe translation) by Volksteater in 1950, directed by Elise van der Spuy, starring Piet du Toit (Shylock), Else Pirow as Portia, Petro van der Walt as Jessica, Andries Brink and John Ree. Decor by Ronny Philip.

1951: Presented in Afrikaans (Die Koopman van Venesië, D.F. Malherbe translation) by the University of Cape Town under the direction of Hermien Dommisse, starring Hendrik Hanekom as Shylock, Enone van den Bergh as Nerissa, Edith Rossouw as Jessica. Other cast members were Pieter Bredenkamp, Christie van der Merwe, Hannes van der Merwe, Pieter Geldenhuys, Robert Mohr and Jannie Gildenhuys, opening 5 November in the Little Theatre, Cape Town. Decor was designed by Frank Graves, Doreen Graves the costumes and Frieda Ollemans made the masks.

1953/1960?: Performed in Afrikaans by NTO as Die Koopman van Venesië (D.F. Malherbe translation) , directed by Fred Engelen and opening at the Little Theatre in Cape Town in 1953/1960?, with Pieter Bredenkamp, Louw Verwey, Hermien Dommisse (Portia), Paul Malherbe, Fred le Roux and Chris van den Berg. Costume designs by Mavis Taylor (designs also used in later productions in Antwerp.)

1955: Produced in Afrikaans (Die Koopman van Venesië, D.F. Malherbe translation) by the University of Cape Town's Speech and Drama Department with K.A.T. and B.A.T., directed by Fred Engelen and opening at the Little Theatre in Cape Town in late September, with Pieter Bredenkamp, Louw Verwey, Hermien Dommisse (Portia), Paul Malherbe, Fred le Roux, Kobus van der Colff as Antonio, Pietro Nolte and Chris van den Berg. Costume designs by Mavis Taylor (designs also used in later productions in Antwerp.) This production was subsequently staged in Stellenbosch.

1963: Performed at Maynardville starring Helen Bourne, Pietro Nolte, Leslie French (Shylock), Cecilia Sonnenberg (Portia), and others.

1964: Staged by PACOFS and WADAMS at the quadcentennial Shakespeare Festival in the Orange Free State, touring the province before playing in Bloemfontein. The production was directed by Fred Engelen and the cast included himself (Shylock), Frank Gilwald (Antonio), Michael Richter (Solanio), Peter Krummeck (Salerino), Chris Mobsby (Basasanio), Allen Turner (Lorenzo), Jock Armstrong (Gratiano), Lucille Gillwald (Portia), James MacLaughlin (Prince of Morocco), Jan Raath (Launcelot Gobbo), Ian Galloway (Old Gobbo), Denise Kalil (Jessica), Carel van Loggerenberg (Prince of Arragon), Al Sjoberg (Tubal), Dave Snashall (Duke of Venice) and others. The stage manager was Russel Kent.

1966: Performed by NAPAC, Pieter Scholtz as Shylock.

1969: Performed in Afrikaans as Die Koopman van Venesië (the Anna Neethling-Pohl translation) as PACT at the Breytenbach Theatre, directed by Francois Swart and featuring Carel Trichardt (Shylock), Petru Wessels (Portia), Don Lamprecht (Ou Gopse), Sandra Prinsloo (Jessica), Louis van Niekerk (Antonio), Marius Weyers (Bessanio).

1971: Performed by the Port Elizabeth Shakespearean Festival, Leslie French (Shylock), Helen Mann (Portia).

1979: Staged by CAPAB Drama with Rene Ahrenson and Cecilia Sonnenberg at Maynardville, directed by Michael Atkinson, with Simon Swindell (Duke of Venice), Marko van der Colff (Prince of Morocco), Marthinus Basson (Prince of Arragon), Roger Dwyer (Antonio), John Whiteley (Bassanio), Neville Thomas (Gratiano), Peter Cartwright (Salerio), Johan Esterhuizen (Solanio), Glynn Day (Lorenzo), Henry Goodman (Shylock), Michael Drin (Tubal), Jonathan Rands (Launcelot Gobbo), Simon Swindell (Old Gobbo), Chris Goetsch (Leonardo), Richard Grant (Balthazar), Ian Roberts (Stephano), Gillian Lomberg (Portia), Patti Canning (Nerissa), Fiona Ramsey (Jessica) and others.

1979: Performed by NAPAC, John Hussey (Shylock), Liz Dick (Portia).

1980: Performed by the Market Theatre, Ron Smerczak (Shylock), Aletta Bezuidenhout (Portia).

1981: Performed by SODA, directed by Ian Steadman for in September.

1981: Performed by PACT in Afrikaans as Die Koopman van Venesië (Pohl translation), directed by Louis van Niekerk with Don Lamprecht as Shylock and Rika Sennett as Portia.

1985: Performed by PACOFS , directed by Ken Leach with Richard Haines (Shylock)], Richard Carlsson, Malcolm Terry, Sandra Duncan (Portia).

1991: Performed in Afrikaans as Die Sakeman van Venesië (Tjaart Potgieter translation) by PACT at the State Theatre and the Alexander Theatre, 1991, directed by Ilse van Hemert with Eghard van der Hoven, Itumeleng Wa-Lehulere, André Stolz, Gys de Villiers, Kevin Smith, André Odendaal, Albert Maritz, Marius Meyer, Francois Viljoen, Patrick Mynhardt, Jan Stoop, Tjaart Potgieter, Francois Potgieter, Brümilda van Rensburg, Susan Coetzer, Megan Choritz. Designs by James MacNamara, lighting by Stan Knight.

1992: Presented by CAPAB Drama at Maynardville from 11 January to 15 February, directed by Janice Honeyman. Set designed by Peter Cazalet, costumes by Birrie le Roux, lighting by Malcolm Hurrell, starring André Jacobs (Antonio), Mark Hoeben, Kurt Wustmann and Timothy Mahoney (friends to Antonio and Bassanio), Gavin van den Berg (Bassanio), Robert Fridjhon (Lorenzo), Jonathan Pienaar (Gratiano}, Fiona Ramsay (Portia), Pauline O'Kelly (Nerissa), Matthew Roberts (Stephano), Robert Whitehead (Shylock), Peter Butler ((Prince of Morocco), Royston Stoffels (Old Gobbo), André Samuels (Leonardo), Michelle Scott (Jessica), Blaise Koch (Prince of Arragon and Duke of Venice), Neels Coetzee (Tubal). Other roles played by Ina Vermeulen, Ivan Abrahams and Matthew Roberts.

2008: Maynardville Production. Presented by The Maynardville Theatre Trust and Artscape. Directed by Roy Sargeant. Set designed by Keith Anderson. Costume designed by John Caviggia. Original music composed by Michael Tuffin. Lighting designed by Faheem Bardien. Sound designed by Lynley Pillay. Assistant director and voice coach Megan Choritz. Cast: Antonio, a merchant of Venice: Graham Weir. Salerio, friend to Antonio and Bassanio: Stephen Jubber. Solanio, friend to Antonio and Bassanio: Friedrich Smit. Bassanio, Antonio's friend, and suitor to Portia: Clayton Boyd. Grazanio, friend to Antonio and Bassanio: Scott Sparrow. Lorenzo, in love with Jessica: Francesco Nassimbeni. Portia, a rich heiress, of Belmont: Tessa Jubber. Nerissa, her gentlewoman: Juliet Jenkin. Shylock, a rich Jew: Jeremy Crutchley. The Prince of Morocco, suitor to Portia: David Johnson. Lancelot Gobbo, Clown, servant to Shylock: Darron Araujo. Old Gobbo, Lancelot's father: David Crichton. Jessica, daughter to Shylock: Jacqui du Toit. The Prince of Arragon, suitor to Portia: John Caviggia. The Duke of Venice: David Crichton. Servant to Antonio: David Johnson. Other roles played by: Andriette Beukes, Buddy-Bo Butler, Jerome Chapman, Marko Coetzee, Clive Gilson, Alex Tops.

2018, Feb 20 - Mar 3: Mannville Open Air Theatre. Presented by Port Elizabeth Shakespearian Festival. Directed by Helen Flax. Tim Collier Antonio, Bennie Gerber Bassanio, Philip Cowie Graziano, Ryan Campher Lorenzo, Jonathan Minnie Salerio, Jamie-Lee Reynolds Solania, Morne Rossouw Leonardo, Clifford Kleb Shylock, Gemma Barnard Jessica, Ken Collier Tubal, Matthew Hamilton Launcelot, Dennis Slattery Old Gobbo, Leslie Speyer The Duke, Sigqibo Kutase Morocco, Lesley Barnard Portia, Tanya TaylorNerissa, Siphosethu Puti Balthazar, Gabriella Jordaan Gabriella, David Jordaan Gaoler, Vicky du Toit Masque Reveller, Danielle Viljoen Slave Girl.


PACOFS theatre programme, 1964.

Facsimile version of the 1903 Dutch translation, The Internet Archive[2]

Maynardville theatre programmes, 1979, 1992.

Maynardville programme 1992, listing South African "Shylocks" and "Portias" from 1928 to 1985.

Programme notes of the Maynardville production in 2008.

Wikipedia [3].

F.C.L. Bosman, 1928. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel I: 1652-1855. Pretoria: J.H. de Bussy. [4]: pp. 150, 171, 219, 338-340, 396.

Undated newspaper clipping found in a scrapbook prepared by Sophie Snyman, student in Speech and Drama at the University of Stellenbosch, dated 1951 (re the 1951 UCT production).

Die Sakeman van Venesië theatre programme, 1991.

The Mime, 1(3), 1928.

Teaterwoordeboek, Vaktaalburo, 1977.

PACOFS Drama 25 Years, 1963-1988.

PACT Info, (2), 1992.

Nel, 1972, p.155 and Inskip, 1972. p.83 (1955 production in Afrikaans)

2018 Port Elizabeth Shakespearean Festival Theatre programme.

Go to ESAT Bibliography

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