The Merchant of Venice remains a ‘problem play’ for contemporary production. Whether the play is inherently antisemitic or not, it remains one of the most popular of the canon. I will consider how actors and their directors can, with the wisdom imparted by twentieth-century psychology and Stanislavskian-derived ideas of objectives, circumstances and subtext, seek to circumvent the challenges and infuse problematic text with more acceptable interpretations. Possible reinterpretations of Shylock are centrally considered, but the characters and motives of Jessica, Portia, Antonio and Bassanio are also scrutinized. Such re-evaluation of the underlying motivations seems a reasonable resolution for keeping the text intact while undermining any inherent negative stereotyping. However, once we admit of this subversion of a writer’s intentions, what might the consequences be if there are those who wish to use the same tools to create anti-humanitarian theatre?
Roger Wooster has worked as an actor and academic. His most recent book, Theatre in Education in Britain, was published in 2016 by Bloomsbury Methuen.