The new play is a reimagining of the character of Portia from Shakespeare’s The Merchant Of Venice. The Deeds Of Mercy is an exploration in sexual identity, gender politics, personal growth, love and power. Creating Portia as a woman with a secret: after the famous trial scene in which Portia was disguised as a male lawyer, her life does not follow Shakespeare’s text. My Portia decides to continue work in the legal profession- as a man. One of the important elements of my story involves a connection between Portia and Shylock that is not ended by the trial. Portia is awakened to the cruel anti-semitic norms of her society and seeks out Shylock in his self-exile, learning more about the history of the Jews in Venice and their reviled, yet essential place in Venetian life. This occurs while Portia is honing her skills in the practice of law, defining her life without Bassanio, and discovering her passion for social justice. All the while, disguised as a man, giving Portia an “insider’s” view of her male dominated society and instructing her personal evolution.
One wonderful aspect of being in Prague for two months is the opportunity to visit the Jewish Quarter of that city and to explore it’s history and stories. One that fascinates me and will undoubtedly find it’s way into the play is that of the golem of Prague.
The era of Shakespeare’s life (1564-1616) was a golden age for Jews in Prague.
According to a popular legend, it is said that the body of a Golem lies in the attic of the Old New Synagogue. In the 16th-century, the rabbi of Prague reportedly created a golem out of clay from the banks of the Vltava River and brought it to life to defend the Prague ghetto from attacks and Pogrom. The rabbi deactivated the Golem on Friday evenings by removing the Golum before the Sabbath (Saturday) began, so as to let it rest on Sabbath. One Friday evening, the rabbi forgot and feared that the Golem would desecrate the Sabbath. The rabbi then managed to immobilize the Golem in front of the synagogue, whereupon the Golem fell in pieces. The Golem’s body was stored in the attic of the synagogue where it would be restored to life again if needed. I plan to incorporate this story into Shylock’s narrative to Portia. Perhaps he is a new Golum for his people. Or- is she? I love “ghost stories” and have always found that elements of the magical, the unexplained, the miraculous, find their way into my work. I am very excited about the opportunity to visit the historic Jewish areas of Prague and hope to have much to include in future blogs, as I will be there very soon!