William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice is one of the most widely performed, read, and discussed plays of all time. Basing the drama on a handful of tales widely known in the seventeenth century, Shakespeare weaves together a story of love, theft, revenge, and humanity. Shakespeare likely knew no Jews, as they had all been expelled from England centuries before his birth, but he manages to create in Shylock a character that is flawed, undeniably human, and one of the most recognizable Jewish characters in all of world literature.
Through the centuries, different productions and actors have portrayed Shylock in vastly different ways—as comic, villainous, sympathetic, or tragic. The resources in this kit are designed to help students grapple with both the play’s, and their own, conflicted feelings regarding Shylock the Jew, Jewish history, and anti-Semitism in western culture.
Cover image: Painting, Auguste Charpentier's “The Jewish Money Lender,” 1842, from MutualArt.