A New York City school cancelled its production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice amid parental concerns about the antisemitic themes in the play.
According to a report in the New York Post, Jewish parents expressed concerns that the play may not be appropriate for the teenage drama students at Morton Middle School in Manhattan.
The Shakespearean tragedy tells the story of the Jewish moneylender Shylock, depicted as the stereotype of “a greedy Jew”, who is insulted by his Christian enemies. A Smithsonian Magazine analysis has observed that there were more than 50 productions of the play in Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1939, lending “credence to the charge of antisemitism,” according to the magazine.
Theatre for a New Audience (TFNA), the Manhattan-based organisation collaborating with the students on the play, told the New York Post that they had taken into consideration the “polarising elements of the play” when developing the project and had worked with input from the ADL to ensure that the “challenging themes” would be treated with the “proper critical analysis, sensitivity, and thoughtfulness.”
Nevertheless, the school decided to abandon the production, saying its decision was not taken “lightly,” that they had “worked diligently” with TFNA and had “listened to the members of our community to resolve concerns.”
According to school sources, opinion was divided. One member of the school community said that you needed “knowledge and context” to understand how “bad and dangerous the antisemitism” in this play was. But other parents were “opposed” to scrapping the production, while yet others calling for a dialogue, with one parent noting that, while he had “reservations,” by cancelling the play, the school was missing “a teachable moment.”