I struggled– really, failed– with Shakespeare when I was first introduced in the American tradition through high school required reading. I think we read Hamlet and I had zero interest, but I always felt left out or somehow incapable since plenty of my peers seemed to have no issue and perhaps even enjoyed this reading.
A great long-time friend of mine who worked for the Shakespeare Theater Company and when visiting me in Denmark, read parts of Hamlet at the Kronborg Castle in Helsingør. Since then, I always had an itch — that was in 2010 or so, and that memory stuck with me.
Sorting donations at the library a while ago, a copy of No Fear Shakespeare- The Merchant of Venice appeared and I thought why not scratch this itch during winter reading? I have no regrets carrying this along with me during my travels. I appreciated the side-by-side translation and other editorials that come along with the “No Fear” edition. I must admit, I felt some of the “plain English” was overly simplistic — but all in all, the modern translation gave me the confidence I needed to dig into The Merchant of Venice, which is a great story with lots of cultural complications to consider. Shylock, the “villain” of the story has quite a hard time getting along because he is Jewish and this theme stays throughout– the most memorable aspect of this that comes to my anti-capitalist mind is when folks start debating whether or not promoting the conversion to Christianity is a good idea, since then there will be a shortage of bacon and other pork products to go around– sounds like a conversation I could hear at a bar today, to be honest.
The other aspect of the story that piqued my interest is the female turn to power through disguise. The end of the play is focused on reconciliation with the two women- Portia and Nerissa- who end up resolving the debt issue that is the central conflict in the play.
I am happy to have finally approached Shakespeare successfully and always find that these reading sessions afford me the opportunity to take such adventures that might otherwise slip by.