The Merchant of Venice
Shakespeare’s knotty tale of justice and mercy between money lenders and borrowers is, technically, a comedy. But it is not exactly a laugh a minute. Even the occasional bouts of cross-dressing and the appearance of a clown are used as symbols to flesh out the play’s central themes (pun intended). Five hundred years after its first performance, the character of Shylock has come to represent the historic prejudice faced by Jewish people, while his demand for a ‘pound of flesh’ is now a common euphemism for vengeful justice. It is no wonder, then, that productions of the play are often considered a ‘barometer’ for the mood of the times.
The big one. Shylock argues that if Antonio cannot pay his debt, he must give a pound of flesh. Eventually, Portia argues that Shylock is right — but if Antonio loses a drop of blood, Shylock himself will be punished for trying to ‘seek the life’ of a Venetian citizen. In the end, mercy is more important than following the letter of the law.
‘Clueless’ jury puts justice in the dock
A high profile trial has been thrown out of court after the jury showed it did not understand its role. Should 12 ordinary people be trusted with such important decisions?
‘Accountant of Auschwitz’ to face justice
Oskar Gröning, a 93-year-old former Auschwitz guard, is standing trial for war crimes. Were people like Gröning responsible for the Holocaust, or should the blame fall on those in authority?
Vigilante justice for racist remarks online
Twitter is divided over a popular Tumblr blog that encourages fans to expose internet racism and get the perpetrators fired. Is vigilante justice a good substitute for the real thing?
Shylock has now become a symbol for all the stereotypes used to demonise Jewish people: mercurial, self-interested and vengeful. But Shylock insists that he is only practising what he has learned from his Christian counterparts: men like Antonio who have spat on him for his whole life. Has religion become less divisive over time?
German leader slams new persecution of Jews
Yesterday, 75 years since the start of World War Two in which six million Jews were killed by Nazi Germany, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke out again against anti-Semitism. Why?
Fight for reform as ‘Ain’t No Muslim’ trends
This weekend, a cry that a violent man ‘ain’t no Muslim’ went viral, while prominent Muslims announced their commitment to reforming their faith. Can moderates take ownership of Islam?
Study shows Christian ‘martyrs’ doubled worldwide
At least two thousand Christians were killed for their faith last year, double the number in 2012. Why does ‘medieval’ religious slaughter still happen in the the modern world?
‘O, my ducats! O, my daughter!’ cries Shylock when Jessica steals his money and runs away to marry Lorenzo. Throughout the play, wealth seems to be just as important as personal relationships, if not more so. Is that still the case? And is it wrong?
Bishops slam materialism as UK targets wealth
George Osborne says Britain could become the world’s richest major economy within 15 years, but church leaders say our money obsession is ruining the country. Does wealth bring happiness?
More billionaires as the rich get richer
The 1,000 richest people in Britain and Ireland have more than doubled their wealth in six years, while others struggle to feed themselves. Should we accept the rich getting richer?
‘Nothing wrong with debt’, economists argue
MPs have voted in favour of a law requiring Britain to ‘live within its means’. Governments and individuals in the developed world have taken on large sums of debt. Should we be concerned?
After all the hatred, arrogance and scheming of men leads to Antonio’s life hanging in the balance as he sits in the dock, it is Portia who comes to the rescue. By dressing as a lawyer, she becomes a symbol of the need for justice and mercy which lies at the play’s heart. And yet she can only assert her moral and intellectual authority while dressed as a man.
Female politicians take the lead after Brexit
In the post-Brexit political shakeup, women have risen to the top. Soon, Britain’s main parties could all have a female leader in place. Do women make for better leaders in troubled times?
Hillary makes history in US presidential race
A triumphant Hillary Clinton has become the first woman in over 200 years to be presidential nominee for a major US political party. It is a historic moment. But how important is her gender?
Women still blocked from corridors of power
A century after the first International Women’s Day, the achievements of women’s rights movements are impressive. But even today, there is no doubt that men still hold the balance of power.
To marry Portia, her suitor must first choose between a gold, silver and lead casket as part of a bizarre, game show-like test of his suitability. The characters’ choices define them throughout the play — especially when it comes to how they treat others.
Ban on therapies to ‘cure’ gay teens
California has become the first place to outlaw attempts to ‘cure’ homosexual young people. Now, British psychotherapists say the practice is bogus.
Life lessons from global ‘happy’ study
Having a circle of good friends, yes, but being involved in politics? New academic research suggests there are obvious and less obvious ways to be happy. So can you choose a joyful life?
Marriage in the dock after celebrities split
A slew of celebrity divorces and quarrels played out in grim detail under the glare of the media has led to a bout of public soul-searching about the institution of marriage itself.