Programme for the 2001 against all odds production of William Shakespeare’s – The Merchant of Venice.
Performed 23rd-27th July 2001
Burton Taylor Studio Theatre, Oxford
It is perhaps no surprise that The Merchant of Venice was Hitler’s favourite Shakespeare play, and was performed more than any other throughout fascist Germany, in effect being used as anti-Semitic propaganda. Certain negative Jewish stereotypes are clearly present in the play: Shylock is a moneylender, he seeks revenge on the life of a Christian, he is thrifty and careful with his money. Since the Holocaust Shylock has of course had to be rehabilitated. He is now generally portrayed in a far more sensitive light, and yet certain stereotypes remain. Trevor Nunn’s recent interpretation was certainly not anti-Shylock, yet the character was, visually at least, still a stereotypical Jew. He talked with a “Jewish” accent, wore a long black coat and had a big grey beard. It has been our mission from the start to fully rehabilitate the character into a strong, charismatic man, proud of his faith and what he has achieved, close to his daughter, who through others’ gross mistreatment of him is pushed slowly into a corner where he can do nothing but strike back at those who wrong him. A tragic hero then, a strong man brought down by others, a Hamlet, a Macbeth even. But certainly not a one-dimensional stereotypical relic of an age of prejudice.