• Reading Levels 3 - 5

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. 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.

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