The Merchant of Venice (1923 film)

Last updated
The Merchant of Venice
The Merchant of Venice (1923 film).jpg
Directed by Peter Paul Felner
Produced by Peter Paul Felner
Written by William Shakespeare (play)
Peter Paul Felner
Giovanni Fiorentino
Starring Werner Krauss
Henny Porten
Harry Liedtke
Carl Ebert
Music by Michael Krausz
Cinematography Axel Graatkjaer
Rudolph Maté
Edited by Peter Paul Felner
Distributed by Phoebus Film
Release date
13 October 1923
Language Silent
German intertitles

The Merchant of Venice (German: Der Kaufmann von Venedig) is a 1923 German silent drama film directed by Peter Paul Felner and starring Werner Krauss, Henny Porten and Harry Liedtke. The film is an adaptation of William Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice . It was released in the United States in 1926 as The Jew of Mestri. [1] The film was made on location in Venice, with scenes and characters added which were not in the original play. This is the surviving copy, being two reels shorter than the German version. The characters in the German retained Shakespeare's nomenclature, but in the American they were given new names sourced from the Italian work Il Pecorone , a 14th-century short story collection attributed to Giovanni Fiorentino, from which Shakespeare is believed to have drawn his idea. The film purports to be a return to the original, as an excuse for its differences from the play.

Cinema of Germany Film and television industry in the Federal Republic of Germany

The film industry in Germany can be traced back to the late 19th century. German cinema made major technical and artistic contributions to early film, broadcasting and television technology. Babelsberg became a household synonym for the early 20th century film industry in Europe, similar to Hollywood later.

Silent film Film with no synchronized recorded dialogue

A silent film is a film with no synchronized recorded sound. In silent films for entertainment, the plot may be conveyed by the use of title cards, written indications of the plot and key dialogue lines. The idea of combining motion pictures with recorded sound is nearly as old as film itself, but because of the technical challenges involved, the introduction of synchronized dialogue became practical only in the late 1920s with the perfection of the Audion amplifier tube and the advent of the Vitaphone system. The term "silent film" is a misnomer, as these films were almost always accompanied by live sounds. During the silent-film era that existed from the mid-1890s to the late 1920s, a pianist, theater organist—or even, in large cities, a small orchestra—would often play music to accompany the films. Pianists and organists would play either from sheet music, or improvisation. Sometimes a person would even narrate the intertitle cards for the audience. Though at the time the technology to synchronize sound with the video did not exist, music was seen as an essential part of the viewing experience.

Peter Paul Felner (1884–1927) was an Austrian-Hungarian screenwriter and film director.



The characters are renamed in the extant English script. [2]

Werner Krauss actor

Werner Johannes Krauss was a German stage and film actor. Krauss dominated the German stage of the early 20th century. However, his participation in the antisemitic propaganda film Jud Süß and his collaboration with the Nazis made him a controversial figure.

Henny Porten German actress and film producer

Frieda Ulricke "Henny" Porten was a German actress and film producer of the silent era, and Germany's first major film star. She appeared in more than 170 films between 1906 and 1955.

Harry Liedtke actor

Harry Liedtke was a German film actor.


The script varies significantly from Shakespeare's original.

Mordecai, The Jew of Mestri, has a young daughter, Rachela, whom he has betrothed against her will to Elias, the son of his merchant friend Tubal. Rachela is secretly in love with the Signor Lorenzo, a Venetian gentleman - and a Christian.

Giannetto is an idle scapegrace who has lost his inheritance and is carelessly living on his affluent merchant friend, Benito, on whom he habitually charges his debts.

The Lady of Belmonte, Signora Beatrice, is an affluent widow in the region, whose hand is much sought after. Giannetto visits her and also falls for her charms. The Prince of Aragon is the most distinguished of her many suitors, but she despises him as a vain popinjay.

Kingdom of Aragon medieval and early modern kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula

The Kingdom of Aragon was a medieval and early modern kingdom on the Iberian Peninsula, corresponding to the modern-day autonomous community of Aragon, in Spain. It should not be confused with the larger Crown of Aragon, that also included other territories — the Principality of Catalonia, the Kingdom of Valencia, the Kingdom of Majorca, and other possessions that are now part of France, Italy, and Greece — that were also under the rule of the King of Aragon, but were administered separately from the Kingdom of Aragon.

Beatrice is immediately favourable towards Giannetto's suit, but Aragon tell her that he is in fact an idle pauper, and disappointed she reluctantly consents to marry the Prince instead. Changing her mind after, she seeks out Benito to find whether the tales are true; he convinces her that it is but idle slander, and she promptly plights her troth to Giannetto.

Meantime Rachela has eloped with Lorenzo, and together they seek refuge in Signora Beatrice's house. Her father and the rest of the Jews disown her; as a Christian she is regarded as dead.

Some of Benito's ships have been lost at sea, and when the time comes for his friend's marriage, he cannot defray the costs. Knowing that other of his ships are sure to return in time, he borrows money for him of the Jew of Mestri, giving him a bond for the sum at a month's date. Giannetto reluctantly agrees to this; the forfeit in the bond is a pound of flesh from the defaulter; Benito is confident that he can pay the money in time, Mordecai hopes this will be an opportunity for taking revenge for the loss of his daughter.

The time comes for the bond to expire, and news arrived that the rest of Benito's ships have been destroyed. Rejoicing, Mordecai hauls him before the court, demanding his stipulated forfeit. Giannetto, telling Beatrice of his friend's danger, receives thrice the sum from her coffers and attempts to redeem the bond, but Mordecai is obdurate – the date is past. Beatrice then disguises herself as a Doctor of Law and comes to the court; initially agreeing to the Jew's demands, when he prepares his knife to the breast of Benito she halts him, reminding him that is he is not utterly exact in the flesh he removes - one pound - his life will be forfeit. Sensing this as an impossibility he desists, and the bond is annulled. Benito offers the fair Doctor payment for her services, but she refuses, desiring only as a courtesy a ring of Giannetto - the same she had herself given him, bidding him keep it always; he reluctantly gives it up. Returning home, she chides him with his want of faith at losing her gift, before revealing her deception. The lovers reunite, Lorenzo marries Rachela and Giannetto Beatrice. Old Mordecai is left alone and desolate.


  1. Antonio in Shakespeare and the German; Benito in the American; Ansaldo in Il Pecorone.

Related Research Articles

<i>The Merchant of Venice</i> play by Shakespeare

The Merchant of Venice is a 16th-century play written by William Shakespeare in which a merchant in Venice named Antonio must default on a large loan provided by a Jewish moneylender, Shylock. It is believed to have been written between 1596 and 1599. Though classified as a comedy in the First Folio and sharing certain aspects with Shakespeare's other romantic comedies, the play is most remembered for its dramatic scenes, and it is best known for Shylock and his famous "Hath not a Jew eyes?" speech on humanity. Also notable is Portia's speech about "the quality of mercy". Critic Harold Bloom listed it among Shakespeare's great comedies.

Charles Macklin 18th-century Irish actor

Charles Macklin, [Gaelic: Cathal MacLochlainn], was an Irish actor and dramatist who performed extensively at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Macklin revolutionised theatre in the 18th century by introducing a "natural style" of acting. He is also famous for killing a man in a fight over a wig at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

Geraldine James, OBE is a British actress. For her role as Portia in the 1989 Broadway revival of The Merchant of Venice, she was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play and won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Play. She also won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the 1989 Venice Film Festival for She's Been Away. Theatre director Peter Hall says James ranks amongst the great English classical actresses.

<i>The Jew of Malta</i> c. 1590 play by Christopher Marlowe

The Jew of Malta is a play by Christopher Marlowe, written in 1589 or 1590. The plot primarily revolves around a Maltese Jewish merchant named Barabas. The original story combines religious conflict, intrigue, and revenge, set against a backdrop of the struggle for supremacy between Spain and the Ottoman Empire in the Mediterranean that takes place on the island of Malta. There has been extensive debate about the play's portrayal of Jews and how Elizabethan audiences would have viewed it.

Gracia Mendes Nasi (1510-1569), was one of the wealthiest Jewish women of Renaissance Europe. She married Francisco Mendes/Benveniste. She was the aunt and business partner of Joao Micas, who became a prominent figure in the politics of the Ottoman Empire. She also developed an escape network that saved hundreds of Conversos from the Inquisition. Her name Gracia is Portuguese and Spanish for the Hebrew Hannah, which means Grace; she was also known by her Christianized name Beatrice de Luna.

<i>The Merchant of Venice</i> (2004 film) 2004 film by Michael Radford

The Merchant of Venice is a 2004 romantic drama film based on Shakespeare's play of the same name. It is the first full-length sound film in English of Shakespeare's play—other versions are videotaped productions which were made for television, including John Sichel's 1973 version and Jack Gold's 1980 BBC production.

Roderigo Lopez 16th century physician

Roderigo Lopez served as physician-in-chief to Queen Elizabeth I of England from 1581 until his death by execution, having been found guilty of plotting to poison her. A Portuguese converso or New Christian of Jewish ancestry, he is the only royal doctor in English history to have been executed, and may have inspired the character of Shylock in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, which was written within four years of his death.

Iscah is the daughter of Haran and the niece of Abraham in the Book of Genesis. The passage in which Iscah is mentioned is extremely brief. As a result rabbinical scholars have developed theories to explain it, typically adopting the claim that Iscah was an alternate name for Sarah (Sarai), the wife of Abraham, particularly that it denoted her role as a prophetess.

Portia (<i>The Merchant of Venice</i>) character in The Merchant of Venice

Portia is the protagonist of William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. A rich, beautiful, and intelligent heiress of Belmont, she is bound by the lottery set forth in her father's will, which gives potential suitors the chance to choose among three caskets. If he chooses the right casket, he wins Portia's hand in marriage. If he chooses the incorrect casket, he must leave and never seek another woman in marriage. She is said to be blonde and has curly hair. As Bassanio says to Antonio in, she is more beautiful than the word itself. She is shown to think little of various foreign noblemen of similar rank who are most likely to seek her hand in marriage and still less of two seen to attempt her father's assigned task. Instead she favours a young but impoverished Venetian noble, soldier and a scholar, Bassanio who goes on to choose the right casket. Later in the play, she disguises herself as a man, then assumes the role of a lawyer's apprentice whereby she saves the life of Bassanio's friend, Antonio, in court.

Antonio (<i>The Merchant of Venice</i>) character in The Merchant of Venice

'Antonio' is the title character in [Shakespeare]'s '[The Merchant of Venice]'. An influential, powerful and wealthy nobleman of Venice, he is a middle-aged man and a merchant by trade who has his financial interests tied up in overseas shipments when the play begins. He is kind, generous, honest and confident, and is loved and revered by all the Christians who know him. His willingness to die for Bassanio is a manifestation of his character. Antonio manifests anti-semitism by cursing and spitting at Shylock. He is a structural centre of the play.

<i>Shakespeares Politics</i> (book) book by Allan Bloom with Harry V. Jaffa

Shakespeare's Politics is a 1964 book co-authored by Allan Bloom and Harry V. Jaffa. The authors provide an analysis of four Shakespeare plays guided by the premise that political philosophy provides a necessary perspective on the problems of Shakespeare’s heroes. Its methods and interpretations were significantly influenced by Leo Strauss, who taught Jaffa at the New School for Social Research and Bloom at the University of Chicago, and to whom the book is dedicated.

Hutin Britton actress

Nelly Hutin Britton, usually credited as Hutin Britton was an English actress. She was best known for her performances in Shakespeare roles early in the 20th century. She also appeared in leading roles in two silent British films.

The Maori Merchant of Venice is a 2002 New Zealand drama film in the Māori language, directed by Don Selwyn.

Frederick Valk was a German-born Jewish stage and screen actor of Czech Jewish descent who fled to the United Kingdom in the late 1930s to escape Nazi persecution, and subsequently became a naturalised British citizen.

Janet Ann Adelman was a Shakespearean scholar, a literary critic, and professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley.

"The quality of mercy" is a soliloquy by Portia in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice; it occurs during Act 4, Scene 1, set in a Venetian Court of Justice. It is the speech in which Portia begs Shylock for mercy. The speech is regarded as one of the great speeches in Shakespeare, and it is an example of the esteem Shakespeare held for those who showed mercy.

Shylock character in The Merchant of Venice

Shylock is a character in William Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice. A Venetian Jewish moneylender, Shylock is the play's principal antagonist. His defeat and conversion to Christianity form the climax of the story.

Jessica (<i>The Merchant of Venice</i>) character in The Merchant of Venice

Jessica is the daughter of Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. In the play, she elopes with Lorenzo, a pennyless Christian, and a chest of her father's money, eventually ending up in Portia and Bassanio's household. In the play's dramatic structure, Jessica is a minor but pivotal role. Her actions motivate Shylock's vengeful insistence on his "pound of flesh" from Antonio; her relationships with Lorenzo and Shylock serves as a mirror and contrast to Portia's with Bassanio and with her father; her conversion to Christianity is the end of Shylock's line's adherence to the Jewish faith.

<i>Il Pecorone</i>

Il Pecorone was an Italian novela written between 1378 and 1385 by Giovanni Fiorentino. It was written in a style influenced by the Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio, the Golden Legend collection of saint lives, the Seven Sages of Rome or the Gemma ecclesiastica of Giraldus Cambrensis. For its historical facts, however, it relies on the Nuova Cronica of Giovanni Villani.


  1. Vicki Janik, 2003. The Merchant of Venice: A Guide to the Play, p.241
  2. Robert Hamilton Ball, 1968. Shakespeare on Silent Film: A Strange Eventful History