Production of Merchant of Venice carries a warning of anti-semitic content

March 10, 2019 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice now showing at the New Fortune Theatre in the Perth’s  University of Western Australia has a warning about the play’s antisemitism for patrons on its booking site.

Lucy Eyre

Lucy Eyre confirmed that the program contains the wording: PLEASE NOTE This play contains anti-Semitic language.

She said: “I think it is entirely appropriate to put the warning in the publicity material and program since we are subjecting the audience to this language by producing the play, which would otherwise be unacceptable outside of the theatrical forum. The warning lets the audience know that we understand that this language is offensive and unacceptable.
When the characters use this language, and it appears to be acceptable by other characters, or at least they are indifferent to it, is a sign that Jewish people are in trouble since any social mores have collapsed. Therefore, hopefully, the audience will have the hindsight to understand that overt vilification based on ethnicity and/or religion is a precursor to violence and genocide.”
Lucy also addressed antisemitism and other matters regarding the play in her Director’s Notes in the play’s program. Some excerpts of her notes have been included below.
“The Merchant of Venice is a difficult play for many reasons. It has been performed all over the world for over four hundred years, yet, in recent times, it has been either avoided by directors or berated by critics for perpetuating anti-Semitic attitudes. Since the Holocaust of World War Two, this play cannot be experienced by theatre practitioners, audiences and critics without the haunting reminder of this horrific event. When I first chose this play to direct for GRADS I wondered whether it would still be relevant to twenty-first century audiences, but, when I heard of recent attacks on Jewish people in Canberra, New Zealand and in other parts of the world, as well as an increased reporting of the rise of far-right extremist groups, I made the unfortunate realisation that it is indeed still relevant.
The language is being spoken by characters who are bigoted. Their bigotry does not allow them to see that Shylock is driven to revenge by a series of degrading attacks, the loss of personal wealth and more importantly, the loss of his daughter, apparently his only family member. His method of revenge is not condonable, yet, to Shylock, the accumulation of assaults, known or perpetrated by Antonio, is too much to endure any longer. Is it an expression of pride or of dignity?”
Her Director’s Notes also address how they chose to set the play in 1938, “as this is the year that real changes started to occur that affected Jewish people in their everyday lives in Italy” Her notes also refer to Italy’s history at the time and the rise of anti Semitism in Italy from 1936.
Lucy also wrote about bigotry, and the complexity of discrimination that is fuelled by personal experience, socialisation and whether “you are born on the “right” side of society.”
She also noted that she wanted to highlight the many forms of discrimination that are in the play. “Of course, we are drawn to the shocking anti-Semitic insults but what is interesting to me is that Shakespeare has left clues (some more pronounced than others) of other forms of discrimination, such as overt sexist and implicit homophobic allusions of Venetian society.
The play, for me, is a reminder of the power of language. That when, as a society, we berate or patronise people for being insulted by name-calling, what we fail to realise is the history of violence that the language evokes.”
The Merchant of Venice is at the New Fortune Theatre, University of Western Australia, Perth at 7.30pm from March 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 14, 15, and 16.
Tickets are available at www.ticketswa.com or call 6488 2440 between 12pm and 4pm weekdays.
Lucy Eyre is a playwright, director, actor, producer, and researcher, who has worked in professional, independent, and community theatre for over 30 years.
She graduated with a PhD in Performing Arts from WAAPA.
The production season will close on March 16th
The Jewish Community Council of WA declined to comment.

Comments

One Response to “Production of Merchant of Venice carries a warning of anti-semitic content”
  1. Liat Kirby says:

    It’s a shame that Lucy Eyre feels it necessary to make the distinctions she has to theatre audiences, and I guess due to the possible ignorance of many theatre-goers The Merchant of Venice might appear to be antisemitic. In fact, it is not. It is peopled with characters who are antisemitic (as well as consumed by greed) and written by Shakespeare in such a way that makes that obvious. Indeed, the Christian characters are shown to be shallow, hypocritical people, whose notion of religion is used and abused, superficial to an extreme.

    It’s a complex play and, for me, the most confounding issue in it is Shakespeare’s depiction of Shylock’s daughter. Yes, he loses her, and it’s when she turns against him with such fervent contempt to join ‘the other side’ as it were, that the most full misery of Shylock’s existence becomes most apparent. At this point he is truly left alone as a Jew, as a man, in this decadent, vainglorious and repellent society. [Is it that she has not the capacity to know her father differently from the antisemitic stereotypes Venetian society bestows upon him (therefore, indirectly on her) and must therefore flee from it and from her own identity?]

    Shakespeare himself has often been accused of antisemitism for this play. Nothing could be further from the truth. He is reflecting the truth of the human condition at the time and he is also giving Shylock the complexity he deserves, while making his reality only too clear. I have seen different versions of the play, some which unfortunately deal with caricature rather than depth. It sounds as if Lucy Eyre’s interpretation will be very different to that.

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