The Merchant of Venice
The Merchant of Venice is a play by William Shakespeare (1564-1616).
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 and by the time of its publication in 1600 (the first quarto) it had been performed "divers times".
The play was entered in the Register of the Stationers Company, by James Roberts on 22 July 1598 under the title of The Merchant of Venice, otherwise called The Jew of Venice and published by the stationer Thomas Heyes as the first quarto in 1600.
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.
Given their racial overtones, The Merchant of Venice had, like Othello, become the subject of intense debate and criticism over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Translations and adaptations performed in South Africa
Over the centuries the play has been translated, adapted and/or satirized in a variety of ways.
Below are a number of versions done in South Africa. For more on some of the versions, go to the particular entry.
South African translations
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.
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, where a link has been provided.
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, was performed in South Africa in the 1860.
A piece, referred to as a Shylock Burlesque and possibly a version of Talfourd's extravaganza, was performed in Cape Town in 1867.
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.
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, under the title of The Merchant of Venice, 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.).
1858: Performed by J.E.H. English in the Harrington Street Theatre, Cape Town, on 26 August and 2 September, (billing it as "Shakespeare's most admired comedy in 4 acts") with a cast that included English himself as "Antonio", Charles Fraser as "Shylock", Mrs English as "Portia", Mrs Delmaine and Miss Delmaine. Also performed was Did You Ever Send Your Wife to Camberwell? (Coyne).
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.
1864: A reading of the play performed by Thomas Brazier, as one of his series of Dramatic Readings held every alternate Monday in the Cape Town City Hall between 4 July and 7 November. (Other plays in the series of seven works read were Knowles's The Hunchback, Bulwer-Lytton's The Lady of Lyons and five plays by Shakespeare: Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, King John and Much Ado about Nothing.)
1867: Possibly the play performed as a Shylock Burlesque on 5 March 1867 during a Benefit Performance for the Somerset Hospital in Cape Town was arranged by the officers of the 9th Regiment, led by Captain Borton, and performed in the Theatre Royal in association with Mrs Marie Duret and Mrs Cooper. It also featured the regimental orchestra, led by Signor Bonicoli and a performance of Slasher and Crasher (Morton).
1867: The performance of Shylock Burlesque repeated on 13 September in the Theatre Royal, Cape Town, as a benefit for madame Marie Duret. Again done by Madame Duret and the Le Roy-Duret Company in association with Captain Borton and the officers of the 9th Regiment, and included a performance of the Macbeth Travestie (Talfourd).
1868: Performed as a "Grand Legitimate Treat", and now named The Merchant of Venice, or The Cruel Jew, by the Le Roy-Duret Company on 9 January in the Harrington Street Theatre, Cape Town, with Good for Nothing (Buckstone) and a "Pas Seul" by Miss Clara. Stage management by T. Brazier.
1868: The Merchant of Venice, or The Cruel Jew repeated by the Le Roy-Duret Company on 13 January in the Harrington Street Theatre, Cape Town, with The Silent System (Williams) and a dance by Miss Clara.
1875: Scenes from the original play performed by Disney Roebuck and his company in the Bijou Theatre, Cape Town, on 24 and 25 May, with La Somnambula (Moncrieffe) and The Waterman (Dibdin). The evening of the 24th was a "Regatta Night" under the patronage of the Regatta & Table Bay Rowing Club.
1876: Performed by Disney Roebuck and his company in the Theatre Royal in Burg Street, Cape Town, on 17 May.
1876: Performed by Disney Roebuck and his company in the Athenaeum Hall, Cape Town, on 24 May. with The Waterman (Dibdin) and the Sailor's Hornpipe by Miss Duggan.
1876: Performed by Disney Roebuck and his company in the Athenaeum Hall, Cape Town, on 13 July, with The Goose with the Golden Eggs (Mayhew and Edwards).
1877: Performed by Disney Roebuck and his company in the Theatre Royal in Burg Street, Cape Town, on 10 October, featuring the "first appearance of Miss Constance Young" (no doubt in the role of "Portia").
1878: Performed in the Theatre Royal, Cape Town, on 2 September, by the Smith and Thatcher Company, consisting of Henry Smith, Richard Thatcher and Ada Ward (in the role of "Portia").
1895-6: Performed by the Holloway Theatre Company, under the auspices of the Wheeler Theatre Company theatre company as part of a season of plays which opened in the Standard Theatre, Johannesburg on the 26th December with Othello. The company was composed of William J. Holloway, Leonard Rayne, Gerald Lawrence, Amy Grace, John Nesbitt, William Haviland and Amy Coleridge. The company also played in the Opera House in Cape Town for a season that opened in May 1896.
1898: Presented by the Haviland and Lawrence Shakespearian & Dramatic Company at the Port Elizabeth Opera House January 14. Cast: William Haviland (Shylock).
1904: Performed by Leonard Rayne and his company as part of his touring repertoire, inter alia playing at the Opera House, Cape Town in the second half of the year.
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 English modernist theatre practitioner 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"), John Ramsdale ("Launcelot Gobbo"), 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. Also starring At Botha, Fred Steyn, Errol Ross, Eric Nobbs, Pierre van Pletzen, Ben Kruger, Riana Wilkens, Amor Tredoux, Vivian Solomons.
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
The Rand Daily Mail, 26 January 1981.
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.
D.C. Boonzaier, 1923. "My playgoing days – 30 years in the history of the Cape Town stage", in SA Review, 9 March and 24 August 1932. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.)
F.C.L. Bosman, 1928. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel I: 1652-1855. Pretoria: J.H. de Bussy. : pp. 150, 171, 219, 338-340, 396.
F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.121-3, 189, 206, 232, 234, 295, 324, 339, 341, 344, 261, 372, 421
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.
E-mail correspondence from Laurence Jacobs, August, 2020, containing information supplied by John Ramsdale.
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