“A Daughter, Lost”: Jewish Representation In Performances Of The Merchant Of Venice

ASU Author/Contributor (non-ASU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Madeline Ann Stone (Creator)
Appalachian State University (ASU )
Web Site: https://library.appstate.edu/
David Orvis

Abstract: In August 2019, against the backdrop of reinvigorated BLM protests around the U.S. and across the globe, NPR’s Code Switch podcast released an episode titled “All That Glisters Is Not Gold,” which takes its name from a well-known passage in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (2.7.65). In the first of the episode’s two segments, we hear about a mostly white high school theater troupe preparing to put on a production of Merchant. According to Jeanne Harrison, the director for this student production, Merchant has “always felt dangerous” (NPR, 2019) and was selected only after two Jewish students spoke up in favor of the choice and the importance of staging Merchant at the current cultural moment. Pointing to instances of anti- Semitic hate crimes and hate speech popping up across the country, students involved with the production believe that the play’s portrayal of anti-Semitism in the past can help create powerful dialogue on the anti-Semitism of the present. Or as one student puts it, “Not putting on this play would be an admission that they prefer to avoid these issues rather than talk about them” (NPR 2019). Although the director and cast do concede that certain changes would be required to ensure proper framing of the play’s difficult subject matter, participants mostly seem in agreement that the difficult work of performing the play would be worth promoting more public dialogue about intolerance and oppression. Nevertheless, there is palpable tension among some castmates, particularly those tasked with hurling anti-Semitic insults toward the character of Shylock who in this production is, in fact, portrayed by a Jewish student. For this student, as well as for the troupe’s lone student of color playing the role of Portia’s waiting maid, safe words to pause rehearsal and regular breaks to share and process feelings have been incorporated into the troupe’s routine. Whether these and other measures were indeed sufficient is a question asked as the segment concludes, and the responses from previous interviewees sound much less certain. Thus, the first segment concludes by asking listeners to ponder whether even a well-meaning production committed to equality and social justice can ever fully or finally disentangle itself from the racist tropes and rhetorics that pervade the play.

Additional Information

Honors Project
Stone, M. (2021). “A Daughter, Lost”: Jewish Representation In Performances Of The Merchant Of Venice. Unpublished Honors Thesis. Appalachian State University, Boone, NC.
Language: English
Date: 2021
Jewish, Performance, Jessica, Intersectional, Gender

Email this document to