Shylock’s first scene in The Merchant of Venice is important because it sets the tone for the audience’s view of him throughout the play. I have never seen the play performed, but it has been my experience that an audience will form an opinion of a character upon first seeing them. There are many different ways of portraying Shylock in his first scene. I will be focussing on portraying Shylock as a villain. I understand that his role is villainous, but various actors and directors have actually portrayed him differently.
I like to think of my way, as the way Shakespeare himself would have done it. During a production of Merchant the audience will see Shylock before they hear him, so I will start with his appearance. Shylock first appears in Act 1, Scene 3. He needs to be an old man stricken in years, but only in the face. It should be a little wrinkled, and his hair ought to be gray. It is important that in his first scene Shylock stands up straight and appears strong and confident. Shylock shall lose this confidence and posture by the end of my production, but for this scene he must be on the verge of arrogance.
He should be outfitted in a Jewish garbadine, a garment of rich material but a dull shade and it must fit him well. This will give the appearance that he is rich, but not trying to brag about it. It is important to note here that Bassanio must appear in mild dress. He should not depict a commoner, but at the same time not be wearing anything flashy, this will add to the grandeur of Shylock’s clothing. I would also have Shylock and Bassanio walk about the rear of the stage and appear to be speaking to each other. That way the audience will be able to begin forming their opinion before hearing Shylock speak.