In The Merchant of Venice, Shylock is a successful Venetian merchant and rival to Antonio, another merchant. After being unable to pay Shylock back for the terms of the loan he agreed to, Antonio and his friends use disguises, deceit and an insane legal loophole to steal all of Shylock's money, give it to his son-in-law and force Shylock, a devout Jew, to convert to Christianity.
And exit, chased by small children.
Antonio and his buddies hate Shylock for the mere fact that he's Jewish, but also because he charges usury, or a fee on money he lends out. You might recognize this as an interest rate, or, what every bank in the world has charged on loans for hundreds of years.
Banks are evil. Who knew?
As if spitting on Shylock in the street and undercutting his business practices (Antonio lends money interest-free at a loss just to screw with him) aren't bad enough, Antonio is stupid enough to agree to Shylock's terms when he needs a loan: pay the sum back in full, or Shylock gets a pound of Antonio's flesh. Let's just be glad that Shylock's descendants didn't start credit card companies.
We like how he's unspecific about which pound. Here, it's obviously his nipple.
When the day comes for Antonio to pay up, Antonio has a friend's girlfriend pose as a lawyer and take control of the proceedings. On a technicality, she declares Shylock is in contempt of the court and therefore all of his assets are forfeit. To add insult to injury, Shylock is forced to convert to Christianity on the spot, even though Shylock begs for death before losing his religion.
"Didn't you see the description of the play? It's a comedy, asshole. Convert."
Incidentally, this plot point was inserted as a happy ending for Elizabethan audiences, who would see the degradation and destruction of the faithful Shylock and his subsequent conversion to Christianity as evidence of Shylock's soul being saved.
The titular character in the play Coriolanus is one of Rome's most popular generals, and the bravest, most bloodthirsty warrior in the military. After being driven from Rome in a political coup, Coriolanus decides to take advantage of the "Outside the Box Military Solutions" conference he went to at the Roman Marriott and show up to his mortal enemy's house half-naked to try to form an alliance.
"I got myself all oiled up too, just in case you, er ...still want to fight."
Aufidius, who spends the first three Acts of the play trying to kill Coriolanus, throws his arms around his enemy's body and launches into the most homo-erotic speech in Shakespeare, describing among other things the various wet-dreams he has had about Coriolanus.
The play states that Coriolanus is driven out of Rome in "mean attire," basically meaning the rags of a beggar. Underwear wasn't a huge priority in ancient Rome, so he free-balls it to Aufidius' house and throws himself at the mercy of his sworn enemy. This is Aufidius' response:
Aufidius: Know thou first
I loved the maid I married; never man
Sigh'd truer breath; but that I see thee here,
Thou noble thing! More dances my rapt heart
Than when I first my wedded mistress saw
Bestride my threshold.
-- Coriolanus, Act IV Scene v, Lines 116-121
Or, translated into bro-speak: Dude, I'm totally into my wife and all, but looking at your sick abs and rockin' body, I'm seriously hornier than I was when I had sex with my wife for the first time.
"Take my hand, and maybe we'll get out of a Shakespeare play without being horribly mutilated."
Aufidius: Thou has beat me out
Twelve several times, and I have nightly since
Dreamt of encounters 'twixt myself and me;
We have been down together in my sleep
Unbuckling helms, fisting each other's throat
And waked half dead with nothing.
-- Coriolanus, Act IV scene v, Lines 124-129
Translated: You've beaten me out ... in combat 12 times, and every night afterward I had raging boner wet dreams about you and me getting our sweat-wrestle on, fisting each other's ... throats, and afterward I woke up "half-dead" (post orgasm) "with nothing" (boner depleted, covered in my own love-juice).
Now imagine Ralph Fiennes and Gerald Butler doing this scene come November this year.
They vow to attack Rome together, and literally leave the stage hand in hand. This is basically like if Batman and the Joker decided about two hours into The Dark Knight to call their whole blood feud off and open a day spa together.
Shortly after this scene, they go get some champers, go to the steam room and have a giggle about women.
For our final act of horror, we go back to Titus Andronicus. After the events earlier which leave Titus' daughter Lavinia disfigured -- the woman responsible, Tamora, convinces Titus to cut off his own hand to save his sons. Then she kills them anyway.
"Hands up all those who want them to live!"
Titus, driven mad, invites the few remaining living characters to a dinner party, where he goes completely bananas and no fewer than six people are killed.
Titus captures Tamora's sons and kills them. These are the two who did unspeakable horror on his daughter, so that's cool ... wait, he then hangs them upside down, drains their blood and bakes them into a pie. What is this, Sweeney Todd?
He could at least give him a proper haircut first.
He then invites Saturninus (the Emperor of Rome), Tamora and Lavinia to a dinner party where he serves the pie to the guests. As they munch away on the other other white meat, he asks Saturninus what one should do with a daughter who has been defiled. Replying in the characteristically sensitive manner of the time, he replies one should kill the daughter. Titus obliges, stabbing Lavinia to death, which, considering her condition, was probably OK with her. He then tells Tamora the extra-secret ingredient in the dinner ...
Titus: Why, there they are, both baked in this pie,
Whereof their mother daintily hath fed,
Eating the flesh that she herself hath bred.
-- Titus Andronicus, Act V Scene iii, Lines 59-61
... and before she can spew her son's tasty flesh all over the wallpaper, he stabs her in the face before being brought down by Saturninus, who in turn is also stabbed to death.
"Last one alive gets to finish off the pies!"
This is an orgy of violence that would make Eli Roth stain his Inglorious Basterds underwear! you think to yourself. If only there was a film version as catastrophically violent as the play! Well move Glitter out of the No. 1 spot on your Netflix queue, because there is one, and it stars Anthony "Hannibal Lecter" Hopkins.
He went full Smurf for this role.
The most recent film version was directed by Julie Taymor (who is responsible for Broadway smash hits like The Lion King and Broadway flop-tastic disasters like Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark), and it is notable for its graphic interpretations of the violence of the play, and for being completely, utterly insane -- the characters use horses and swords next to modern day cars and assault rifles, and the movie starts and ends with a young boy playing with real life toy soldiers. This all somehow makes Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark make a lot more sense:
Both are quite similar, in that they depict a slow, horrible death on stage.
For more ways old-timey folks were ca-raaaazy, check out 9 Inventions that Prove Leonardo da Vinci Was a Supervillain. Or learn how you channel Shakespeare every day, in 10 Words and Phrases You Won't Believe Shakespeare Invented.
And stop by Linkstorm to discover Shakespeare's secret porn stash.
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