Monday, October 30, 2017

Book Review: The Merchant of Venice

I hadn't read The Merchant of Venice before I started it last week. It's the next unit my mentor and I are co-teaching to our juniors and seniors, and wouldn't you know it, it's usually a good idea to have read the stories you're trying to teach. Ha.

Now, you might be thinking that it's odd to have a book review for such a famous play. Who needs my opinion when there are literally hundreds of better-read scholars just waiting to analyze it? I considered reviewing something else, but I'm so excited about this play that I couldn't leave it alone.

Here's the real reason I never read the play before now: I thought it would be dull. A moneylender and a couple of rich guys get in a fight that has to be settled in court? Woooo. No one told me that this play has a badass female lead who hoodwinks all the men while they're declaring their undying devotion to the brotherhood. No one mentioned that most of the love scenes read with a sort of tongue-in-cheek roll of the eyes, or that you didn't have to read the lines aloud to hear the sarcasm.

I don't know why I had such a skewed view of what The Merchant of Venice was really about, but I'm glad I finally read it. It pairs two interwoven storylines: Portia, the heiress forced to marry whichever suitor has the luck to pick the right box, and Antonio, the merchant who offers his  flesh as collateral on a loan so his bestie can court Portia. It paints an awful, anti-Semitic view of Shylock, the moneylender who loans the money to Antonio and his friend*.

As in many of Shakespeare's plays, the women are brilliant, sneaky, and get a lot of great speeches. Portia doesn't sit around waiting for Bassanio to watch his best friend be murdered by the villain–she does something about it. The entire story is a fantastic mix of romance, comedy, and drama. If you haven't read it yet, here's your chance!

This year, Michelle is attempting the most difficult task of all: getting her students to laugh at her terrible jokes.

*Although, one could argue that Shylock had to be portrayed that way due to Elizabethan views of Jews and their worth. It makes me wonder what Shakespeare really believed. Did he hate Jews, too, or was he trying to draw attention to ridiculous anti-Semitism? 

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