The Merchant of Venice
by William Shakespeare

A project about globalization, identities, and culture wars

Sephardic Version

Translated into Bulgarian by Alexander Shurbanov

Translation of Excerpts from English into Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) – Daisy Braverman
Translation of Excerpts from English into Arabic – Khalil Mutran
Translation of Excerpts from English into Aragonese – Dabi Lahiguera

The production includes texts by Gaius Valerius Catullus, Guido Cavalcanti, Pierre de Ronsard, Edmund Spenser, and Heinrich Heine, as well as excerpts from the French translation of the play by François Pierre Guillaume Guizot, the German translation, by August Wilhelm von Schlegel, and the Italian, by Carlo Rusconi.

Adapted and directed by Javor Gardev
Set Design by Nikola Toromanov
Costume Design by Svila Velichkova
Music by Kalin Nikolov
Vocals by Denitza Seraphim
Stage Movement by Andrea Gavriliu
Video and Graphic Design by Vladislav Iliev
Lighting Design by Ilya Pashnin
Assistant Director – Lyuba Todorova
Consultant – Boika Sokolova, The University of Notre Dame (USA) in England
Consultant – Darya Lazarenko (European Shakespeare Research Association and Ukrainian Shakespeare Centre, New Bulgarian University)
Dramaturge – Mira Todorova
Photographer – Yana Lozeva
AR Filter – Mihail Iliev
Stage Managers: Elena Kostova, Meglena Dimitrova
Graphic Design by Nikolay Dimitrov NAD, Yanina Petrova
Video-trailer by Stefan Zdraveski
Consultant (Arabic language) – Khairi Hamdan
Consultant and Translator of Excerpts in Scots – Ronan Paterson
Consultant and Translator of Excerpts in Scots – Dimitar Dragnev


DUKE OF VENICE – Vladimir Penev
ANTONIO – Pavel Ivanov
SHYLOCK – Samuel Finzi
BASSANIO – Aleksander Tonev
PORTIA – Radina Kardzhilova
GRATIANO – Plamen Dimov
NERISSA – Katalin Stareishinska
LORENZO – Nencho Kostov
JESSICA – Kremena Deyanova
SALERIO – Kaloyan Trifonov
SOLANIO – Asen Dankov
BELLARIO – Stelian Radev
BALTHAZAR – Yavor Valkanov
TUBAL – Stefan Kushev
LANCELET GOBO – Pavlin Petrunov
PRINCE OF ARRAGON – Alexander Kanev

Additional Cast (pre-recorded on video):

THE COUNTY PALATINE– Borislav Dimitrov-Bobo
MONSIEUR LE BON – Youlian Tabakov
THE SCOTTISH LORD – Henry Eskelinen
THE DUKE OF SAXONY’S NEPHEW – Konstantin Stanchev

Works of Poetry used in The Production:

Sonnet VII by Guido Cavalcanti
English translation by Ezra Pound
Bulgarian translation by Alexander Shurbanov

Poem 75 by Gaius Valerius Catullus
English translation by A. S. Kline
Bulgarian translation by Dimitar Dragnev

Sonnet XVII “Roses” by Pierre de Ronsard
English translation by Andrew Lang
Bulgarian translation by Alexander Shurbanov

Sonnet XXX “Amoretti” by Edmund Spenser
Bulgarian translation by Alexander Shurbanov

Sonnet in Scots by Ronan Paterson
English translation by Ronan Paterson
Bulgarian translation by Alexander Shurbanov

Sonnet LIV by Heinrich Heine
English translation by Emma Lazarus
Bulgarian translation by Alexander Shurbanov

Special thanks to Kirilka Stavreva, Angel-Luis Pujante, Simeon Evstatiev, Joseph Benatov, Alessandro Massacci, Deni Boye

The production is performed with English subtitles.

*This performance is NOT suitable for people suffering from photosensitive epilepsy.

Premiere: 12th and 13th of May 2024, Sofia, Bulgaria

Javor Gardev


hot temper, benign evil, and global culture wars

In this stage interpretation of “The Merchant of Venice” I focus on the storylines lurking beneath Shakespeare’s text. These plotlines develop under the surface of the cultural, identity, and confessional conflicts in the play, but are impossible to evade in a modern production of the play.

Those hidden plotlines touch upon the characters’ base passions, intuitions and predispositions. These are emotions, without an  ideological basis, conceptualized only after the event and then justified by the characters.

Like the open-trade societies of the early modern period, of which Venice is among the most affluent, our contemporary globalized society is itself riddled with conflicts, which are not justified through doctrinal, ethnic and gender identifications, but seem rather to be the result of a “hot temper”, preceding any rational identification.

“Hot temper” is a predisposition which may manifest itself through a direct  natural attraction or repulsion between individuals.  At times, such attraction brings irresistible passion, while repulsion brings unbearable pain. Attraction and repulsion may be entirely spontaneous as an experience, occurring without any prior ideological reasoning and causing torment to those under their influence. Thus they effectively thrust them towards a secondary ideological identification with ideological communities whose purpose is to define the “cause” of their passion and create a cause-and-effect narrative regarding its existence.

Such a secondary ideological order offers the individuals in question no immunity against recurrent outbreaks of those exact passions; it merely points towards an external enemy who, by becoming the target of their aggression, acts as a release valve for the  endlessly recurring “natural” tension.

As a result of this cyclically recurring passionate tension, memories of past wars and their horrors present neither guarantee against, nor prevention from future conflict, just as the study of Kristallnacht in schools offers little hope against the recurrence of future pogroms.

On the contrary, those who study pogroms with the aim to learn from history may soon find themselves to be, in their turn, the cause of such pogroms, without even being aware of it. Though they may be sensitive, gentle, vulnerable people, they may feel the temptation to cause  some “innocent” mischief. Spontaneous impulses may drive them towards what seems innocent performance of mockery, but which would inevitably bring them future remorse and shame. Despite their kindhearted and non-violent nature, they may unwittingly become agents of “benign” evil which seems to place them in a position of moral superiority but slowly drowns them in a miasma of personal unhappiness.

For this reason, in the present reading of this polyphonic play, I have put the strongest emphasis on spontaneous events, paying particular attention to odd occurrences, impulsive behavioral paradoxes and the unexpected contradictions manifested by the characters.

I am curious about the daughters who, despite their emancipation, secretly hope that their own free choice will magically coincide with their father’s will.

I’m curious about those who selflessly offer to die for their friends without any particular need for such sacrifice.

I am curious about those who are pure of heart and who are forced to mature suddenly under the weight of an unbearable responsibility thrust upon them out of the blue.

I am curious about those who stand in solidarity with others, ready to risk their personal happiness and gamble it away depending on the happiness of those others.

I am curious about the moneylenders who are willing to cancel the interest due to them so that they may receive recognition of their human dignity.

I am curious about those of a nostalgic disposition, who at night whisper to their nearest and dearest in their native tongue, while during the day engage in the building of the global Tower of Babel.

I’m curious about those who, having playfully goofed around, sullen their gaze in the process of realization that their game was played on thin ice.

* “hot temper” is taken from Portia’s line in “The Merchant of Venice” “The brain may devise laws for the blood, but a hot temper leaps o’er a cold decree.”

Photos by Yana Lozeva: