Liberty Magazine - July 1 - Martin Surridge

By Martin Surridge

Liberty Magazine – July / August 2012

The climax of The Merchant of Venice, one of Shakespeare's most beloved comedies, is a court scene in which Shylock, the Jewish moneylender, is cunningly prevented from carving a pound of flesh from the body of the Christian Antonio. The spirited Portia, disguised as a male lawyer, explains that if Shylock wishes to claim the debt of a pound of flesh he is owed, he can cut out the pound of flesh but must not spill a drop of blood. Only flesh is stated as collateral in the bond, and the debtor Antonio, the title character of the play, escapes unharmed. It is truly a fascinating scene, and one that addresses so many important themes-vengeance, gender, liberty, justice, wisdom, and of course religion.

For the past couple of years I have been teaching high school English, and one of the highlights each year is teaching a different Shakespearean play to my students. The Merchant of Venice is one of my favorites. Many students enjoy reading the tense dialogue, the passionate oratory of Shylock, and the lighthearted frivolity of the couples Bassanio and Portia, and Jessica and Lorenzo. The complex portrayal of religion in The Merchant of Venice-the only Shakespearean play to feature Jewish, Muslim, and Christian characters-gave me plenty of material for quizzes and essays. There were many days that the class had some excellent discussions on the religious themes in the play, especially the treatment of Shylock by the Venetian Christians.

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