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Arnold Wesker’s Rewriting of Shylock in The Merchant (1976) with a Purpose

Thomas Luk

Keywords: Christian iconography; dark comedy; ethnocentrism; hegemony; Ivanhoe; the Other; reinscribing; rewritings

Rewriting Shakespeare has become a global genre. Arnold Wesker was one of the trailblazers of the genre with his The Merchant (1976). This article argues that Arnold Wesker’s The Merchant, with both its subversion and extension of Shakespeare’s play, in theme, plot and characterization, engages with Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice by means of a counter-discourse. Wesker rewrote Shylock by focusing on two episodes in Shakespeare’s play: Jessica’s conversion to Christianity and Shylock’s self-defence. Wesker’s rewriting disrupts the binary as well as Christian conceptions to bestow upon the Jew the ‘protean quality’ of representing just about any sort of ‘Other’ but themselves. Wesker’s Shylock has a rounded humanity and is a cultured, humorous and book-loving Renaissance man. Wesker puts Shakespeare’s work under scrutiny as a culturally constructed world where life can be repositioned, and margins moved to the centre to be in a new light.

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