On the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s departure (exit stage left), a treat for all you Shakespeare fans. Playwright David Henry Wilson had the temerity to write sequels to The Merchant of Venice and Othello. What’s more, he pulled it off. How? How could any contemporary writer inhabit Shakespeare’s world and language? Wilson himself asks something similar: “How dare any playwright ask to be bracketed with Shakespeare? In my defence, I would point out that the Bard left the stories unfinished.”
Wilson’s sequels are masterpieces of plotting, language, and characterization. He finds connections between the Shakespeare originals, so that in Iago, the Villain of Venice (the Othello sequel) characters from The Merchant of Venice appear and play a full role in the plot.
Naturally, Wilson immersed himself in the two Shakespeare originals. While he claims no startling interpretive discoveries, his sequels do highlight one of Shakespeare’s major themes: disguises and the gaps between appearance and reality. (Just how many cross-dressers and dissemblers are there in Shakespeare?)
In 2015, The Royal Shakespeare Company just happened to be putting on productions of Othello and The Merchant of Venice in Stratford-upon-Avon. The stars were aligned, and Michael Friend Productions took Wilson’s sequels, Shylock’s Revenge and Iago, the Villain of Venice, to the Attic Theatre in the same city and mounted script-in-hand stagings. This double-bill of Doubling Bill proved to be a tremendously enjoyable evening, full of humor, surprise and brilliant performances.