Article Title

The Merchant of Venice, the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and the Perils of Shakespearean Appropriation


Mark Bayer


Although discussions of The Merchant of Venice inevitably confront, in various ways, the anti-Semitism so obviously latent in that drama, for Anglo-American commentators this ethical dilemma does not always evoke a specifically political dimension. Throughout the Middle East, however, the play poses more than difficult moral issues and automatically becomes a touchstone for topical political debate, propaganda, and geopolitical conflict. Each performance, adaptation, or scholarly treatment of the play is intimately and actively associated with the turbulent politics of the region throughout the twentieth century with Shakespeare’s play understood not as an highly provocative dramatic text that depicts Jewish life in the European Diaspora in the sixteenth century, but as a reflection on current affairs, either justifying or condemning one side or the other in a far more immediate clash. In this paper, I look at a number of productions, translations, adaptations, and allusions to The Merchant of Venice throughout the regions, many of them largely unknown to an English speaking audience, and use this discussion to think about some larger issues concerned with the political appropriation of Shakespeare’s plays and artistic productions generally. Because these invocations of the play all distort the text significantly, using Shakespeare to argue politics tends to be more symptomatic of this broader regional conflict rather than an incisive intervention in it

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