Shakespeare and Shylock
One of the great actors of the last century said that to play Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice gave him joy; it was one of the highest points of his career. Shylock, the hated Jewish moneylender, demands the contractual payment of a pound of flesh from Antonio when the merchant defaults on a loan: a viciously antisemitic plot for a play.
The actor who reflected fondly on his portrayal of Shylock was Jacob Adler, a legend of the Yiddish theatre. His proud, defiant Shylock was such a hit in 1901 at the People’s Theatre on the Bowery that he went on to play the role on Broadway in 1903, delivering his lines in Yiddish to an English speaking cast.
This is the same play that would later be championed and produced a number of times in Nazi Germany. But it has also been a mainstay of the stage in the state of Israel.
The Merchant, with all its richness, depth, humanity, contradictions and yes, antisemitism, now comes to Wright State. With Shakespeare’s lines, it’s more than possible to create a sympathetic Shylock. Even so, when I sat in on a rehearsal at Wright State, it was a kick in the gut to hear the word “Jew” said with disdain and ridicule by the young, talented actors in their roles.
– Marshall Weiss, Editor and Publisher, The Dayton Jewish Observer