The Merchant of Venice:
Play introduction by Don Wooten - audio podcast - text (PDF)
Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Merchant_of_Venice
Read the play online -http://shakespeare.mit.edu/merchant/index.html
Last performed by the Genesius Guild in 1988 ~
“The Merchant of Venice” is a two-sided play, and if you aren’t able to “see” it in its entirety, you will find it unsettling, if not downright offensive.
On the dramatic side, it is anti-semitic. If you aren’t pleased by Shylock’s defeat, perhaps even laughing at it, you have missed the dramatic point of the show. You may feel a bit uneasy as the plot unfolds, but the dramatic thrust of the story demands Shylock’s downfall. In our modern, more self-aware times, we understand that what happens to him is shameful, but Shakespeare was a man of his own insular society, even though his generous nature was at odds with it. He simply took an existing theatrical model and built on it.
Jews have suffered at the hands of Christians for centuries. Every society tends to define itself by those who are accepted and those who are excluded. The ones on the outside may be put there for reasons of race, culture, religion, or simple habit. And they are subject to almost every degree imaginable of suffering and humiliation.
The other side of the play is quite interesting and even subversive. You may catch a glimpse of it as the play progresses, but its full force registers on careful reading: the play is about Christian hypocrisy.