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ADL Uses "The Merchant Of Venice" to Teach About Anti-Semitism

New York, NY, September 28, 2006 … Is "The Merchant of Venice," one of Shakespeare's most famous and controversial plays, anti-Semitic?  There is no easy or simple answer to the question.  It depends on the performance and the production.


In response to this longstanding debate about the play, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has selected the 2004 Miramax film version of "The Merchant of Venice" as a teaching tool to help students and teachers explore the issues of anti-Semitism and bias it raises.


This production of "The Merchant of Venice", starring Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons and Joseph Fiennes, was chosen because of the skillful way the delicate subject matter is handled.  The film begins with explanatory statements on the screen, putting the play in historical context.  The text elucidates that at the time, Jews were forced into ghettoes due to pervasive discrimination and that many became moneylenders because they were barred from other professions, providing important background for what the audience is about to see.  In addition, the portrayal of Shylock by Al Pacino is nuanced- he is an empathetic character who is seen as not only a victimizer but also a victim of his times.


Anti-Semitism and The Merchant of Venice: A Discussion Guide for Educators (Grades 10 -12) is a supplement for teachers presenting "The Merchant of Venice" to their students- intended to guide an exploration of the problematic issue of anti-Semitism as part of the broader discussion of the play. The goal of this guide to help teachers raise these important issues with their students and to offer discussion questions, related activities and other resources.

The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.

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Anti-Semitism and The Merchant of Venice: A Discussion Guide for Educators

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