The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

12 comments

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.

12 comments on “The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare”

  1. I’m sure I had to read Shakespeare in high school, but, like you, I couldn’t get interested. If you get the chance, watch the documentary about Albert Culum, “Touch of Greatness.” It’s all in the teaching. He had elementary students producing the plays. The children were amazingly credible. He taught in the 50’s when I was in elementary school. How different his classroom was from mine! If you don’t know about him, experiencing him will definitely be a bright spot in the New Year!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I am having a hard time finding Touch of Greatness available at any local library or online– will keep looking but if anyone has a lead please share!

      Like

  2. Shakespeare was always hard for me to read too in high school. I dreaded having to take a Shakespeare course in college as a mandatory course but I found No Fear Shakedpeare copies for everything I had to read and found it extremely helpful! While it helped me pass my course it also taught me how to read Shakespeare confidently. Shakespeare’s work could arguably be considered another language entirely!

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  3. Borkali, I’m clapping my hands about this breakthrough of yours. I am a Shakespeare fan-girl. Loved it from first exposure in junior high school. Rewrote Romeo & Juliet with a Wild West setting.

    I have taken several Shakespeare MOOC’s on the FutureLearn platform. Most helpful. Most entertaining. “The Merchant of Venice” was one of the plays we studied & I discovered LOTS of nuance I had been missing. I shiver to think of your friend reading “Hamlet” lines in a castle in Denmark. Just wow!

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    1. when i wrote this review i kept thinking “i know somehow that teri is a shakespeare master” — no idea how, but it was a feeling! 🙂
      michelle’s reading certainly made me see a perspective i at least wanted to taste– once i’m back in the US i’ll have a look for some more of these around the garbage pail where they unfortunately end up far too often :/

      i am nearly done with middlemarch (!) and i have to say, the shakespeare preamble was definitely sound in that she references shakespeare frequently– a nice continuity i can better appreciate today than the last go i had with eliot’s brick of a novel.

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  4. That’s why I love reading in community. I get insights from others on books I have read or will read that enrich the experience of my reading. When I read Middlemarch I’m sure the references to Shakespeare went over my head. I don’t know if I’ll tackle Middlemarch again, but if I do, I will keep Shakespeare in mind.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Was thinking recently that we always say ‘it takes a village’ with reference to raising kids but really it takes a village to do anything at all

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