'Antisemitic' The Merchant of Venice will not feature in new book

Sir Michael Morpurgo is refusing to include The Merchant of Venice in new children’s book retelling Shakespeare’s plays because of its ‘antisemitic’ attitudes

  • Antisemitic portrayal of Jewish character is ‘too raw for children,’ says Morpurgo
  • Shylock, the antagonist of The Merchant of Venice, is a vengeful money lender
  • The play was said to be popular in Nazi Germany as it fit antisemitic propaganda  

Beloved children’s author Sir Michael Morpurgo has refused to include The Merchant of Venice in a new book retelling some of Shakespeare’s most successful plays, due to its antisemitic attitudes.

The 77-year-old War Horse author has penned a child-friendly retelling of some of Shakespeare’s works, including Romeo and Juliet and King Lear, for youngsters aged between six and 16.

Tales from Shakespeare, which is set to be published next year, will not include a retelling of The Merchant of Venice, however, as the author believe it holds offensive attitudes.

The play’s main antagonist is Shylock, a Jewish money lender who is vengeful and demands a pound of flesh as security for a loan. The play ends with him being ordered to convert to Christianity.

Children’s author Michael Morpurgo said he chose to leave The Merchant of Venice out of his retelling of Shakespeare’s plays as the antisemitic character of Shylock was ‘too raw to write about for children’

Speaking about his decision to leave the play, Mr Morpurgo told The Times:  ‘I avoided Shylock because it worried me too much if I am honest about it … there are assumptions right the way through about what it is to be a Jew, and how Jews are thought of, which are so important for our society that, for me, it was best not to go there.’ 

Mr Morpurgo, who was knighted in 2018, read through Shakespeare’s works for the first time in decades as he prepared to write his own adaptations.

The Merchant of Venice was said to have been a popular play in Nazi Germany, as the characterisation of Shylock fitted with the anti-semtic propaganda of the Third Reich. 

The Merchant of Venice’s central antagonist is Shylock, a Jewish money lender who is vengeful and demands a pound of flesh as security for a loan. The character is ultimately forced to convert to Christianity at the end of the play, which was first performed in 1595

He added: ‘I felt… do not go there, it is too raw to write about for children’. 

Al Pacino, Laurence Olivier and Jonathan Pryce have all played Shylock in one production or another over the years. 

In 2016, British novellist Howard Jacobson said of Shylock: ‘From the moment he made his first appearance on the stage in 1595 he has confirmed, for those who already look at the world that way, every anti-Jewish prejudice.’

He said generations of actors had portrayed the character as ‘the medieval stereo-type of the grasping and vindictive, hook-nosed, knife-wielding Jew whom no appeal to a common humanity could soften’.

Al Pacino took on the role of Shylock in 2004, while other actors to perform as the character include Jonathan Pryce and Laurence Olivier

Mr Jacobson added: ‘Unsurprisingly, then, The Merchant Of Venice was performed in the theatres of the Third Reich repeatedly. 

‘In Shylock the Nazis saw the Jew they wanted to see.’

Michael Morpurgo’s Tales from Shakespeare will include retellings of Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as well as Romeo and Juliet. 

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