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Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice was, is and continues to be anti-Semitic

June 25, 2010

Forget who is playing Shylock, or who is the director. It doesn’t matter if the producer is Jewish. The Merchant of Venice is anti-Semitic to the core and is unredeemable. Neither modern audiences, nor ones past, derive any benefit from its production.

Al Pachino is returning to the role of Shylock this summer in New York, I am sorry to report.

I have seen two live productions of the play and several in film. I’ve hated all of them, not because of the performances or even the characters. Rather, it is the fundamental grounding in anti-Semitic storytelling.

Of course, most critics and scholars point to the Shakespearean depiction of a model Jew, a person ready to murder the stupid but saintly Christians to settle a contract. However, more disturbing for me is is the storyline around the daughter Jessica. She elopes with Antonio’s buddy Lorenzo, converts to Catholicism and takes her father’s money and jewels.

Of course, this is all seen as natural, just and right within the world-view of the play. Naturally, most critics appear blind to this issue as well, focused as they are on Shylock, yet another sign of the deep problems with this work.

There’s always talk about “context” for this work. Forget it. There is no context in a live theater production, no hypertext link that can take you to some explanatory thread about this and that historical reference. Not that we would click on them.

Please, Merchant of Venice, go away!

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