Can The Merchant of Venice be performed in Germany after the Holocaust, and if so, how? Is the claim that the play is a touchstone for German-Jewish relations, with a philosemitic tradition – and therefore eligible to be performed today – verifiable? The article begins by briefly surveying this tradition from the Jewish emancipation in the mideighteenth century, which, with a few relapses, continued – especially in productions directed by Jews and/or with Jewish actors in the role of Shylock – until the rise of the Nazi regime, to be resumed after the Second World War. The main part analyses a test case, staged by the Israeli director Hanan Snir at the Weimar National Theatre (1995), and intended rhetorically to avenge the Holocaust on the German audience: Merchant as a viciously antisemitic play with in a play, directed by SS personnel in the nearby Buchenwald concentration camp with eventually murdered Jewish inmates compelled to play the Jewish parts.
Gad Kaynar-Kissinger is Associate Professor (retired) at Tel Aviv University, dramaturg, translator and poet. He has published widely on German, Jewish and Israeli theatre.