Analysis of William Shakespeare's Plays

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Analysis of William Shakespeare's Plays You'd think Shakespeare had titled the play "The Moneylender of

Venice." Although he appears in only five scenes, the character of

Shylock has dominated the performance and discussion of The Merchant

of Venice for the past 200 years. Why? Because Shylock is a Jew in an

anti-Semitic world, and because Shakespeare has made him an object of

ridicule and scorn who nevertheless is a candidate for compassion.

For director Andrei Serban, this makes The Merchant of Venice, along

with The Taming of the Shrew and Othello, one of Shakespeare's three

"problem plays." Although scholars might reserve that designation for

Troilus and Cressida or All's Well That Ends Well, Serban looks at

this trio as a director and sees in each a central character -- a Jew,

a woman, and a black -- whose depiction does not square with

contemporary social values. The "problem" is how to render these plays

on their own terms without offending prevailing sensibilities. This is

a challenge that Serban savors, as his rock-'em sock-'em production of

The Taming of the Shrew made clear to all who saw it at the American

Repertory Theatre last season.

Serban is back at the ART for round two: his take on The Merchant of

Venice begins previews tonight and runs in repertory through January

22. I spoke with him about Shylock and the rest of the play as he was

pr...

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...s in order to further increase his own

material wealth. The Christian virtue of lending money without

interest is positioned, by Antonio, at the basis of Shylock's hatred

of Antonio. But what is significant about Antonio's argument is how it

undermines the justice of Shylock's hatred; because Shylock hates

Antonio for what is an essentially Christian virtue, Shylock attacks

not only a good Christian man of good Christian virtue but also, by

extension, Christianity in general. Shylock's hatred thus has no

ground in the Christian social and religious context of the play, not

to mention wider Elizabethan society.

The perception created by Antonio's argument is that Shylock hates

someone for their following a Christian virtue, which implies that

Shylock is against Christianity, and by extension, of the devil's

party.
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