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Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice: Shylock

An exploration of the magnetic and ambivalent character of Shylock in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.

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Starts Sep 27
Estimated 4 weeks
5–7 hours per week
Self-paced
Progress at your own speed
Free
Optional upgrade available

About this course

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In the first act of William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice , the Jewish moneylender Shylock proposes a “merry sport” to the merchant Antonio: he will lend Antonio the money he needs if Antonio agrees to let Shylock take a pound of his flesh should he default. Shylock calls this contract a “merry bond,” and Shakespeare’s First Folio calls the play a comedy. But what does Shylock want from the bond, and how merry does the play ultimately prove?

In this course, Harvard professor Stephen Greenblatt guides learners through an in-depth exploration of the character of Shylock. You'll learn about Jewish history in Europe, how early audiences might have responded to the play, and the history of the play’s production through the twenty-first century.

With short video lectures, readings from the play, and explorations of adaptations, you will develop critical tools with which to unlock the play's possible meanings.

If you're reading The Merchant of Venice for the first time, this course is a great introduction. If you're reading it for the hundredth time, it is the perfect chance to renew your understanding of one of Shakespeare’s most polarizing plays.

At a glance

What you'll learn

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  • Discover sixteenth-century Venice, the commercial hub whose multicultural landscape gives shape to the play
  • Analyze Shylock, the Jewish merchant: his moral ambivalence, his isolation from and connections to the other characters, and his troubling conversion
  • Situate the play in a long history of artistic representations of Jews in the West, with attention to the problem of anti-Semitism
  • Learn how the play, called a “comedy,” incorporates tragic elements that may prompt audiences to identify with Shylock despite his outsider status
  • Weigh different responses to Shylock over four centuries through the study of artifacts and interviews with authors, actors, and curators

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