The Merchant of Venice: Staging Gender, Class, Sexuality, Race

A crossed-dressed woman who complains that her life is constrained by men marches into the courtroom and makes sure that a Jewish character is defeated. A wealthy merchant pines for an aristocratic man way above his station, while servants and daughters devise schemes to be free. Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice has long been seen as a play embroiled in anti-Semitism (interpreted either as spreading or critiquing it). It has also been championed as a proto-feminist work in which a woman manipulates the action in startling ways. How, we will ask in this seminar, does the conflict between Christianity and Jewishness intersect with struggles around gender, same-sex desire, and class status in the play? How might modern readers respond to moments when characters from marginalized social groups mutate into the role of social oppressors? After situating Merchant in its historical time and sampling critical debates about economics, prejudice and social hierarchies, we will examine ways films “translate” tense social issues into modern frameworks.