Library Digital Content Access

The Merchant of Venice

Production Notes for the September 7, 1967 staging of The Merchant of Venice
by William Shakespeare, 1564-1616

Produced at the Haymarket Theatre (London, England)
Directed by Glen Byam Shaw
Sets by Margaret Harris
Costumes by Elizabeth Montgomery

Accompanying Documents on the Production


Looking forward to that production, John McLeod in LONDON LOOK (10 June 1967, pp. 20-21) reported a retrospective exhibition of Motley designs at the Wright Hepburn Gallery in Belgravia. The Haymarket Theatre Royal Company, who put on the play more as entertainment than as serious drama, said [the critic] Irving Wardle (TIMES, 8 September 1967), made it "resemble a musical comedy libretto."

However excellent the acting by Ralph Richardson, [Wardle] felt that the sets and costumes set the wrong tone: "In spite of the opening parade of Venetian props, there is no continuous sense of place: and the choice of Regency costume--although it affords fetching displays of silks and velvet--gets between the actors and the text. They get little support from Motley's bare stage, equipped only with Shylock's house in one corner and a translucent green back wall." Period sets, glamorous dresses--ever Motley's forte--had gone out of fashion for Shakespeare.

Comments of Margaret Harris

Motley's last Shakespeare [production] in London was a lavish "Merchant of Venice" at the Haymarket Theatre, starring Angela Thorne as Portia. "For some maniacal reason, Ralph wanted to play Shylock," said Margaret Harris. "Anybody less Jewish in the world you couldn't find! He was determined to do it, and so Glen Byam Shaw reluctantly agreed to direct it."

Elizabeth Montgomery and Margaret Harris worked together on the "Merchant"; as in earlier times, Elizabeth did the costumes and Margaret, the sets. "Because it's all so Venetian, we decided to do it in eighteenth-century period costumes a la the painters Longhi, Canaletto, and Guardi," Margaret Harris explained. "Elizabeth did some very glamorous costume designs. They were made very well at Nathan's the costumier's. I did some poor sets: I was trying to do people in gondolas, and it didn't really work. I don't think any of the scenery was very successful. The whole production was a bit of a failure, except the costumes. They were very handsome."

"It was Glen's [Byam's] last Shakespeare, and ours, too," recalled Margaret Harris. "He had said a long time before that he never wanted to do another. 'I can't do any more,' he said. He left Stratford in 1959 because he felt that he had come to the end of what he could contribute that was fresh and interesting. He thought it was time to find somebody young to take over, and of course Peter Hall did. `It's awful to hang on after you've finished,' he said. He really did the same thing at the English National Opera. He was very definite and tough about all that."

The preceding text was taken from Michael Mullin, DESIGN BY MOTLEY (Newark, Delaware; University of Delaware Press, 1995). Copyright 1995, Michael Mullin. Reproduced by permission of the author.

Cast List

Ralph Richardson (Shylock), Angela Thorne (Portia), Jack Gwillim, Malcolm Reid.


THEATRICAL (SELECTIVE) REALISM - created through the selective use of primary research material and careful arrangement of specific elements of a period (line, shape, color, and historic detail) so as to create the essence and impression of a period unencumbered by the minutia of extraneous details for dramatic purposes and theatrical effect.


Mid-18th Century - c. 1730-1745.