The Merchant of Venice
From the Playbill
The history of the 20th century has rendered The Merchant of Venice Shakespeare's most controversial play. A recent production in Israel was the cause of near riots. As we've discovered, some charitable foundations do not wish their name associated with even the study of this plays' explosive issues.
To stage literally Shylock's abuse at the hands of his Christian neighbors - who spurn him, kick him and spit in his face - lays any contemporary production open to charges of anti-Semitism and comparisons to the holocaust. At the very least, Shylock's plight makes audiences uncomfortable. If Shakespeare considered it a comedy, it is certainly one of the darkest in his Folio. So why did our Immortal Bard write it? Could his motive have been crass commercialism? You bet!
Anti-Judaism was big box office in 1590's London...Marlowe's Maltese villain, appropriately named Barabas, the thief who went free while Jesus was crucified, was rotten to the core, monstrously murdering and gleefully dismembering Christians at every turn...But Shakespeare was Shakespeare and one can imagine the wheels turning in that famous balding pate as he created Shylock: a Jew certainly, and therefore a pagan, a miser and practicer of usery admittedly, officially condemned by the Church of England although undoubtedly practiced in a thriving town like London.
Furthermore, he hates Christians. It would be easy to lay it on with a trowel and create another Barabas. And Barabas spelled Box Office. But he just couldn't do it! 'Hast not a Jew eyes?...if you poison us do we not die?' Perhaps before he knew it, a complex and not wholly unsympathetic multi-dimensional character had emerged."
- Robert Currier