Retold and illustrated by Norna Ross
Merchant of Venice Through children’s eyes This is a story I wrote based upon the classic Shakespeare story Merchant of Venice. Experience this dramatic story through the young and innocent eyes of 10-year-old Vinicius and 9-year-old Clara, two children whose lives are affected by the actions of their familymembers and friends. As the adults around them behave according to how Shakespeare intended it to be, the children will take you between the scenes and they cannot help but formulate their own opinions and question the things they see happening around them. After reading Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice in February I was intrigued by the strong character dynamics of the story, and knew I wanted to illustrate this story somehow. After a long period of analysation and idea-brewing, I decided I would try to clarify the story in a clear and understandable way, by approaching it from a children’s point of view. By rewriting the story through the eyes of my own two characters, I was able to write in my own thoughts, opinions, and conclusions that have formed in my mind. Thus, before you lies a combination of Shakespeare’s original plot plus my own story-analysis in one product. And it’s illustrated! Sincerely, Norna Ross
nce upon a time, there lived a boy named Vinicious in Venice. He lived with his uncle Antonio in the center of the city. Antonio was a merchant, dealing in the trade of imported goods. One day, Antonio’s best friend came to visit. He was Bassanio, a young man of no particular trade, but his handsome looks and social charms got him far. He insisted to Antonio that he must borrow some money, so that he could go to woo a fair maiden in a far off place. “Same old Bassanio,” thought Vini to himself. His ears perked up when Antonio suggested Bassanio go into town, to borrow the money on his behalf. Vinicious had been cooped up inside all day, so he asked to go along with Bassanio, to get some fresh air. And so the two of them went to the markets, filled with market vendors trying to sell their products to anything that moved. Vinicious loved the hustle and bustle of it all, and liked to look at all the unfamiliar objects there were for sale. Bassanio spent a good while talking to those he thought might loan him money, but with no luck. “I’m a proper Christian,” they would say, or “You think I’m a fool? I know you have horrible credit, you’re way too risky! Now go away!” Bassanio called for Vinicious to come with him, they were leaving the markets. “Where are we going?” asked Vini, following his friend. “To our last hope,” replied Bassanio. Vinicious followed him through unknown alleyways, past a heavily guarded gate, and into a part of town he had never been before. This, he knew, was the Jewish ghetto. Bassanio seemed to know his way through these dark streets, and lead Vinicious to a door upon which he knocked. They waited. As the door opened, Vinicious had to force himself not to let out a yelp, for the old man who opened the door immediately gave him a very stern look. “Who are you and what do you want?” he said suspiciously. “Shylock, my good man!” interrupted Bassanio, catching his attention. “May I have a word with you? I have a business proposal.” Shylock gave the two Christians another look, and then stood aside to let Bassanio in. “The kid stays out here,” he ordered. Before Bassanio was out of sight, Vini gave a tug on his cape. “Bassanio, I have a bad feeling about this,” he whispered into his friend’s ear. “No worries, Vini, I’ve got this all under control,” Bassanio smiled, and went inside.
In Belmont, Lady Portia wasn’t able to keep a straight face any longer. “And did you see the carriage he arrived in?! Not only was it big enough to fit a small country, it seemed to have been dipped in gold!” Portia laughed, commenting on one of her latest suitors, the French lord, Monsieur Le Bon. “Seriously, the things these men think of, trying to outdo each other.” Clara let out a giggle. She loved to be included on Portia and her older sister Nerissa’s “girl talk”. “So many suitors without a single clue as to what it is a girl actually wants,” Portia let out an exasperated sigh. “All too wrapped up in their own egos to notice, it seems,” added Nerissa, gently brushing her little sister’s curls. A maid appeared at Portia’s door. She announced that the Prince of Marokko was due to arrive shortly. “The Prince of Marokko, eh? Well why not! I hope we don’t get a language problem again. The English baron of Falconbridge got incredibly confused by my poor sign language skills.” She looked at Nerissa, and stated “All these foreign princes and dignitaries have their heads in the wrong places... Where are all the regular Italian boys, who are modest and have pure hearts, I wonder...”
The Prince of Marokko arrived with a circus parade of jugglers, musicians, and wild animals, hoping to impress the fairest maiden of the Western world. Clara had seen so many strange men come and go, she didn’t take notice anymore to their grand arrivals. What the men did not know is that it mattered not how rich they were, or what kind of first impression they made. The choice of which man became Portia’s husband was not up to Portia. Before his death, Portia’s father had created a test that would make sure his precious daughter wound up with the right man, even after he was gone. He had left his entire fortune to her, making her one of the wealthiest single women in Europe. But by making the men choose between a gold, silver or lead casket, one of which held Portia’s picture inside, only the right man with a good heart and searching for love, not fortune, could win Portia’s hand in marriage. Unsurprisingly, the Prince of Marokko failed the test and just as many others before him, was forced to leave Belmont, ashamed and alone.
“Portiaaaa!” Nerissa called out, searching the many rooms of their home for her friend. “Portiaaa!” She found her outside, and out of breath told her the news. “Do you remember... the day the Marquis of Montferrat came to visit, and he had brought his friend... Bassanio, the Venetian man... The one you found incredibly attractive...” “Yes, of course I remember, why?” Portia asked. “Because Bassanio is on his way! He’s coming to Belmont to face your father’s test!” Butterflies arose in Portia’s belly. At long last her prayers had been answered. “Let this be the last time we must go through all this, oh please, let him be the one!” She exclaimed, and rushed to make herself ready. Clara had once again not paid attention the grand arrival of the next suitor. She was therefor extremely surprised when Nerissa came to her, wearing the biggest grin she had ever seen. Bassanio had picked the lead casket and therefor he had won the test, and there would be a wedding right away! “Not only that,” Nerissa added, “Bassanio’s friend Solario has expressed his love to me, he asked me to marry him.... and I said yes!” Together Clara and Nerissa cried tears of joy, and the two of them went to prepare themselves for the double wedding.
Antonio was helping Vinicious with his studies, when a messenger arrived, bearing a letter for Antonio. Upon reading the letter, Antonio became distraught. He began to tremble, so he quickly sat down, and rubbed his face with his hands. Vinicious could hear quiet sobs coming from his uncle’s hidden face. He had never seen his uncle behave this way, so something very grave must have happened. As Antonio recovered slightly, Vini asked him what was wrong. “This letter... has told me that there has been a storm, in the Northsea... My ships, my men, my goods... have all been lost for good... ” he paused “... and now it’s going to cost me my life.” He explained that to get Shylock to loan the money, Bassanio and he had agreed that if the money was not paid back within three months, Shylock would receive a pound of Antonio’s flesh. And that that pound of flesh would come from his heart...” he sagged low, his voice became quiet.“I agreed to it, Vini... I signed my name on his contract... I knew my ships would be here soon...” Vinicious didn’t understand. “Why would he want your flesh? Your life?” Antonio sighed, “Shylock and I go way back, and now I see for all those years I was a fool. He is a Jew, one with a great hatred for the way the Jews are being treated in this Christian ruled city. And I did nothing to try to change his views, in fact I did the opposite, I made his hatred worse... I’ve picked on him, spit on him, made fun of him in front of his peers... He despises me. I should have seen that this deal was his way of getting revenge.” Vini gulped. “Can’t you just tell him you’re sorry for the way you’ve treated him?” Antonio held his head down, gazing into the candle flame. Ashamed, he said “I’m afraid it’s too late for that now.”
The word spread quickly of Antonio’s misfortune. When Antonio denied Shylock his pound of flesh, Shylock was outraged and warned him that he’d take it to the courts! Antonio had signed a contract agreeing to give him a pound of Antonio’s flesh. He wouldn’t stand for less. When the judge heard what sort of absurd case was coming his way, he tried to humanely talk to Shylock one last time, and try to talk some sense into the Jew. Thrilled at all the fuss this contract was causing, and knowing that the law would have to take his side, Shylock bathed in the glory, repeating over and over “I will have my bond!” in front of the whole world to see. “He’s actually enjoying this!” thought Vinicious to himself, watching how Shylock was responding to the judge’s pleads. It hurt to look into the eyes of the man who willingly wanted to take his uncle’s life.
By now the news had also reached Belmont. Bassanio responded by heading back to Venice right away, taking Solario with him. He would help Antonio in whatever way he could. By marrying Portia he had the means to pay Shylock his money back, even in twice or thrice the sum. Portia wished him luck, and waved him off as a good wife does. But a plan was brewing in the back of her thoughts. When Bassanio was out of sight, she asked Nerissa to go up to her father’s chambers and find some of his old clothes. Clara followed Portia to her quarters and sat down on the bed. “What’s going on?” she inquired. “We’re going to Venice, to help Bassanio’s friend.” Nerissa arrived shortly carrying a bunch of men’s clothes. Clara eyed them curiously. “What are those for?” Nerissa thought for a moment at how she should explain, then kneeled down so that she could look Clara in the eyes. “Clara, in these times women are expected to sit by and wait for their menfolk to fix everything. For my plan to work, the only way Antonio is to be saved, Nerissa and I have no choice but to dress as men, so that we will be taken seriously in the courts. I hope that by the time you’re older, men will have come to their senses and will have realized that women are actually capable of doing as much as men can.” Nerissa motioned for Portia to come closer, and whispered something in her ear. The two friends smiled at each other. “Clara, what are you waiting for?!” Portia exclaimed, grinning. “Go pack your things, didn’t I just say that WE’RE going to Venice?” Clara’s jaw dropped, “Me? I’m going to Venice too?” “You sure are, if you hurry up and pack your things at least.”
They made a quick stop at Balthazar the lawyer’s office, and then started on their journey to Venice. In the carriage Nerissa and Portia put on their disguises, giggling all the way. From carriage to a boat, from the boat to another boat, they traveled all night and finally reached the courthouse just after dawn. Inside the drama had already begun, but Vinicious had been told to wait outside. He stared out upon the city, his city, a city that discriminated against Jews so much that they had become bloodthirsty for revenge. Nerissa noticed the boy sitting on the steps, and spoke to Clara. “Clara, you should wait outside. If Portia and I don’t do our jobs correctly, things could get very vicious.” Clara obeyed, and noticing Vinicious also, decided to see if he needed company.
As the adults inside the courthouse fought it out, Vinicious took comfort in Clara’s company. Getting to know each other better, it wasn’t long before his frown had turned into a smile. Time seemed to fly, and suddenly the big courthouse doors burst open, revealing a terrified and bewildered Shylock. Oblivious of his surroundings, stumbling over his own feet, he was incoherently talking to the heavens, “Why Lord, why? Give me death, give me anything other than this, please not this!” To Clara he seemed to have lost his soul entirely, leaving but a beast left. “What happened in there?” she whispered to Vinicious, who replied: “I don’t know, but I think we’re about to find out...”
As the adults inside the courthouse fought it out, Vinicious took comfort in Clara’s company. Getting to know each other better, it wasn’t long before his frown had turned into a smile. Time seemed to fly, and suddenly the big courthouse doors burst open, revealing a terrified and bewildered Shylock. Oblivious of his surroundings, stumbling over his own feet, he was incoherently talking to the heavens, “Why Lord, why? Give me death, give me anything other than this, please not this!” To Clara he seemed to have lost his soul entirely, leaving but a beast left. “What happened in there?” she whispered to Vinicious, who replied: “I don’t know, but I think we’re about to find out...” For now Antonio, Bassanio, Solario came outside with the two strangers they had not recognized were actually Portia and Nerissa in disguise. Bassanio ecstatic that he had not caused his best friend’s death, gave Portia an enormous hug and asked how he could ever possibly thank the blessed saviors enough. Presuming that Portia and Nerissa would not want to hang out long, Clara made herself ready to say farewell to Vinicious. She hoped she would meet him again one day. Vinicious also hoped to see Clara again. He made a vow to never forget this day, for how many years it might be till they met again. He watched Clara and her two strange looking gaurdians leave until their boat turned the corner.
“Antonio! Get out here, my dearest friend in the whole world! I have acquired the finest wine in all of Italy, and I would like to make a toast to you!” Bassanio stood in the doorway of Antonio’s house with a trail of newly hired servants behind him. Vinicious noticed he had new clothes on and a larger feather in his cap. What precisely had taken place in Shylock’s office, Vini didn’t know. But clearly the loan had been made, since Bassanio had since then been strutting around as though he were as rich as royalty. Antonio joined them in a toast, and together they spoke on how Bassanio should proceed to make his way to Belmont, to woo the fair Lady Portia. Bassanio couldn’t wait to arrive at Belmont within the next few days, with his new brigade of servants and the biggest, most luxurious carriage he could now afford.
As they made their journey back to Belmont, Portia and Nerissa relived everything thattheir Clara had missed. the moment thatNerissa Shylockrelived stood As they made journey back toFrom Belmont, Portia and ready to pierce Antonio’s to From her eloquent victory, to top stood it off everything that Clara had chest, missed. the moment thatand Shylock the point whereAntonio’s Nerissa and shetohad persuaded to ready to pierce chest, her both eloquent victory,their and husbands to top it off givepoint themwhere their marital as ahad reward their successful rescue. to the Nerissarings, and she bothfor persuaded their husbands “I can’t see therings, looksasona their faces they realize that we give themwait theirtomarital reward for when their successful rescue. were actually saviors!’ as she fingered “I can’t wait totheir see the looks Portia on theirlaughed, faces when they realize her thathuswe band’sactually ring. their saviors!’ Portia laughed, as she fingered her huswere band’s ring. The following day everything at Belmont had seemed to return to normal.following In her favorite reading spot, Clara became entranced in hertobook. The day everything at Belmont had seemed to return norShe failed notice reading when the husbands returnedentranced to Belmont, bringing mal. In her to favorite spot, Clara became in her book. Antonio andtoVinicious with the them. She failed notice when husbands returned to Belmont, bringing “Whatcha asked, surprising Clara at her side. StarAntonio andreading?” ViniciousVinicious with them. tled at first,reading?” Clara letVinicious out a smile of relief when she sawathim. him “Whatcha asked, surprising Clara her Telling side. Starabout book sheletwas sherelief silently thanked allhim. those responsitled atthe first, Clara outreading, a smile of when she saw Telling him ble forthe introducing into she her silently life. about book sheVinicious was reading, thanked all those responsible for introducing Vinicious into her life.
The End. The End.
Retold and illustrated by Norna Ross June 2010