This article gives due and extended attention to the performance in 1943 of The Merchant of Venice in Vienna, examining the ways in which Shylock was portrayed and potentially misused for propagandistic purposes by the regime. The approach will be both primarily analytical and comparative. Archival material sourced from the theatre museum in Vienna (Theatermuseum) and the Burgtheater will form the base of this research. The question ‘How was Shylock performed under the Nazis?’ will be accompanied by ‘To what extent was the play modified?’ and ‘How does the infamous Vienna production differ from previous, celebrated productions?’ Considering that Merchant is a play which, up until today, often upsets audiences, analysing a Nazi performance might seem too crude an endeavour. This article, however, aims to demonstrate that no matter how painful or uncomfortable a topic may be, ‘Erinnern macht frei’ – remembrance can set you free (Marko Watt).
Alessandra Bassey is a PhD candidate at King’s College London. Her research focuses on performances of Shakespeare’s plays in autocratic contexts, particularly in Nazi Germany.