Readers and playgoers are often surprised to realize that the merchant in
Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” is not Shylock. In fact, Shylock speaks
relatively few lines and is rarely onstage. If this is the case, why do we
associate Shakespeare’s play with his Jewish character? Why has this character
often epitomized Jewishness for the past four centuries? And what can Shylock
tell us about the representation of Jews and Gentiles in early modern England
and in modern America and Europe? This course will use Shakespeare’s “The
Merchant of Venice” as its touchstone to explore these questions as well as
broader issues of race, gender, class, and nationality in pre-modern England.
We will begin by reading Shakespeare’s sources, including Medieval Passion
plays and Christopher Marlowe’s “The Jew of Malta.” We will then examine the
‘afterlife’ of Shakespeare's play through subsequent rewritings of the play and
modern film adaptations. This course will also include a major research project
requiring research skills which we will develop over the course of the semester.