Thursday, September 10, 2009

Banned, Censored, Challenged: The Merchant of Venice

There's a book called The Essential Shakespeare Handbook that explains each play & the poetic works, their context, style and meaning with illustrations. It's a colorful and handy reference, if you want to understand the Bard better.

For all the violence, sexuality and profanity in Shakespeare's works, he still wrote some of the most beautiful passages of the English language.

That is not to say that everyone has found them beautiful. Some of the biggest censorship controversy of modern times surrounds his play The Merchant of Venice, which is believed to have been written between 1596 and 1598.

The story revolves around the love of Bassanio and Portia and the greed of a Jewish moneylender named Shylock. It is the character Shylock who causes the most controversy. He fulfills all of the ugly stereotypes that people have created about Jews- he is greedy, unforgiving, vengeful, sly. He is a tormented villain and one of Shakespeare's most notable bad guys.

In 1931, The Merchant of Venice was removed from high school curricula in Buffalo and Manchester New York after complaints from Jewish organizations. In 1980, it was also removed in Midland, Michigan. Other schools have dropped the play since.

However, The Merchant of Venice is not banned in Israel- in fact, some say it's popular there.

This raises the issue of teaching kids how to view the attitudes of the past- if you don't tell them the truth, how will they ever learn to evaluate history? Keep in mind that this play is assigned on a high school level- and I think we are underestimating teens if we say that the frank discussion of anti-semitism or any kind of prejudice- is beyond them.

Just add it to a long list of things that people aren't allowed to discuss at school these days.


Cleopatra said...

i loved The Merchant of Venice when i read it 2 years ago. I didn't think I would like Shakespeare and I'm glad I read it. People can be so stupid at times it's not even funny.

Miss_Nobody said...

This is weird,I find Shakespeare's works wonderful,though nmostly I do it with annotations...he portayed the society he lived in pretty well, and literature being the mirror of society it shouldn't be discarded as objectionable,but as something to draw knowledge form