Wrestling with Shylock

Contemporary British Jewish Theatre and Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice

in European Judaism
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How does Shakespeare’s ambivalent character Shylock affect British theatre artists of Jewish heritage today? Since the 1970s, stage adaptations of The Merchant by British Jewish directors and actors have struggled to glean an interpretation that would make The Merchant relevant or palatable for a post-Shoah generation. This article has a double focus: we discuss the difference between the adaptations of the older generation – Arnold Wesker’s character rewriting in The Merchant (1976) and Charles Marowitz’s deconstruction in Variations on the Merchant of Venice (1977) – and the contemporary revision in Julia Pascal’s 2008 The Shylock Play. Secondly, we focus on the reaction of contemporary Jewish theatre artists in Britain to the centrality of Shylock as the canonical figure of the Jew in Britain. We asked a number of contemporary British Jewish theatre artists – from Tom Stoppard to Samantha Ellis – about their personal relationship to Shylock and we present a digest of their responses.

European Judaism

A Journal for the New Europe