Because of its potential for fostering antisemitic stereotypes, in the twentieth century The Merchant of Venice has a history of being subject to censorship in secondary schools in the United States. While in the past it has often been argued that the play can be used to teach tolerance and to fight societal evils such as xenophobia, racism and antisemitism, I argue that this is no longer the case due to the proliferation of performance methods in the classroom, and the resultant emphasis on watching film and stage productions. Because images – particularly film images – carry such strong emotional valence, they have the capacity to subsume other pedagogical aspects of this drama in their emotional power and memorability. I therefore question whether the debate over teaching this play is truly a question of ‘censorship’, or simply educational choice.
Esther B. Schupak currently teaches at Talpiot Academic College and Bar-Ilan University. Her research interests focus on Shakespeare, listening rhetoric and pedagogy.