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11 - Questions of Racism: The Merchant of Venice and Othello

from Part III - Critical Issues

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 December 2020

Russell Jackson
Affiliation:
University of Birmingham
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Summary

This chapter considers the treatment of ethnic and cultural identity in adaptations of two plays in which they are an integral element, The Merchant of Venice and Othello. Complex characterization is in danger of being short-circuited by unconscious bias, pulling audiences back to racial stereotypes, dehumanizing Shylock and Othello despite the efforts of well-intentioned filmmakers. In The Merchant of Venice anti-Semitism and its consequences in recent and current politics unavoidably complicate a play whose romantic elements are already made uneasy by issues of patriarchal control and materialism. In Othello the challenges of representing ‘the Moor’ himself are not simply resolved by casting an actor of colour in the role. Productions also have to deal with the manner in which agency is wrested from the titular hero by a villain who can seem to have taken charge of way the audience perceives the action.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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