The Neglect of Portia and Adapting the Unadaptable in 21st Century Novelization of The Merchant of Venice
The critical discourse concerning the study of Shakespeare adaptations in fiction analyses the ‘what’, ‘how’, and ‘why’ of the subject (i.e. which plays have been adapted and how, and why they have been chosen). An area that has not been considered, however, is why certain plays are often disregarded by adaptors and, even when those plays are approached, why specific characters within them are neglected. To correct this omission, this research project will extend the debate by addressing the key research question of considering not what is being adapted but ‘what is not being adapted and why?’ It identifies Portia from The Merchant of Venice as just such a ‘neglected’ character.
Using The Merchant of Venice and its adaptations as case studies, the project structure has four sections:
The first examines the theory and process of novelization, looking at the history and development of the form, and includes a history of adaptations of Merchant across all genres – something not available elsewhere – as well as a timeline showing significant milestones for Merchant and its afterlives.
Next, the project considers the concept of ‘unadaptability’, focussing on the character of Portia. Although her role is the fourth largest female part in the Shakespeare canon and the largest role in Merchant, Portia has been consistently under-represented in the twenty-first century both creatively and critically. The project aims to understand her decline from Victorian icon to Post-Modern cypher by investigating how perspectives of Portia’s character have changed over time in relation to fields such as, gender, race and nation, class, and privilege, as well as considering the comparative critical legacy of Portia and Jessica, and how all of this is reflected in adaptations of Merchant and their intertextuality.
The third section of the main thesis performs a close critical analysis of the most recent novelization of Merchant, Howard Jacobson’s Shylock is my Name, and compares it with previous adaptations of the play in fiction, with emphasis on the handling and disregard of specific characters (such as Portia and Nerissa).
Finally, as an appendix to the main thesis, the project also includes a ‘Novelization in Practice’ element – the writing of a new novelization, telling Portia’s narrative from the viewpoint of the female characters (e.g. Portia, Nerissa, Jessica) in a modern-day setting – something which no other writer has attempted.