I literally had to beg, plead and cajole my husband into agreeing to accompany me to ‘The Merchant of Venice’ which was staged in our city some time ago. I next ventured to suggest that he go through the play once again to refresh his memory but he brushed my words aside, saying, “Do you think I’ve forgotton my Shakespeare, every play of his is fresh in my memory though I left college nearly decades ago.”
As we took our seats in the auditorium I noticed that most of the audience looked like members of a literary circle. The curtain went up and the play commenced.
“In sooth, I know not why I am sad.:…” thus the lines were being spoken by Antonio, the kind-hearted friend of Bassanio. I felt my husband nudging my elbow. “Antonio doesn’t look the least bit sad,” he remarked.
“Oh, please be quiet, people can hear you” I whispered. He was quiet but not for long. Seeing Bassanio enter with Gratiano and Lorenzo ,I could hear him comment, “My, Bassanio doesn’t look handsome at all. I credited Portia with better taste, I wonder who the actor is?” I looked around in embarrassment but fortunately everyone was engrossed in the play. I quietly thrust the ‘cast list’ into his hand and continued to watch the play.
“Don’t you think Portia looks beautiful?” This was a question which took me absolutely unawares. “Listen, that’s not Portia but Nerissa, Portia’s maid, that’s why I asked you to read the play again,” I said impatiently.
The poor dear was taken aback but he continued. “You mean that shabbily dressed woman with plain looks is Portia?” I didn’t bother to answer him.
But more was to follow. My husband spared no single character and I began to feel increasingly uneasy with his every comment. “Can’t your comments wait till we reach home?” I snapped at him.
It was the famous trial scene. Portia and Nerissa were disguised as the Doctor of Law and his clerk.
“Therefore, prepare thee to cut off the flesh. Shed thou no blood, nor cut thou less, nor more. But just a pound of flesh….” crucial lines that change the whole complexion ‘of the case were being delivered with great intensity, just then hubby chose to interrupt, “Why is Portia bent so much? Maybe her advocate’s cloak is too heavy for her.”
People around us burst out laughing and the reason was obvious.
N Meera Raghavendra Rao