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A Guide

Introduction

Welcome to The Moneylender’s Daughter, a World Premiere.

Spawned from what many would say is William Shakespeare's most controversial play, this modern rendering is a dark comedy that takes place where The Merchant of Venice leaves off.

 

Characters

Jessica - Shylock’s daughter who is married and a Christian woman

Launcelot - Servant to Jessica and Lorenzo

Lorenzo - Jessica’s husband    

Shylock - Venetian Jewish moneylender and Jessica’s father 

Antonio – The Duke of Venice, a wealthy and respected merchant

 

Setting

Venice, Italy, late 16th century.

 

Background

Antonio, the merchant in The Merchant of Venice, secures a loan from Shylock for Bassanio. Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, remembers that Antonio has insulted him in the past, so instead of asking interest on the loan, he asks instead that if the loan is not repaid, Antonio will owe a pound of his own flesh. Shylock’s daughter, Jessica, has eloped with Lorenzo, taking her father’s money with her. Shylock is devastated. When Antonio cannot repay the loan, Shylock demands the pound of flesh.

 

Shylock’s revengeful plan is foiled, the contract is canceled, and Shylock is ordered to give half of his estate to Antonio, who agrees not to take the money if Shylock converts to Christianity and restores his disinherited daughter to his will. Shylock has little choice but to agree.                       

 

 

  Shakespeare's World - London

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What was life like when Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice?

Shakespeare lived from 1564 to 1616, and his lifetime spanned most of the Elizabethan era (1558-1603) and the start of the Jacobean era (1603-1625). Simultaneously, London was gaining importance as a trading city and was beginning its rapid growth.

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 Venice 1697

 

Venice at the time of The Merchant of Venice
Venice was a center of naval trade. It was a meeting point between Western and Eastern Europe. Venice was also surrounded by water, giving ships easy access. Venetians like Antonio could both make and lose their fortunes by investing in naval trade. Plus, Venice was also one of the only European cities with a sizable Jewish population.

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An etching of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre from1700 

In England, the Jewish population had been officially expelled in 1290 and would not be allowed to legally return until the mid-17th century. And even though Venice was home to a much wider range of nationalities and faiths, Venetian Jews were still subject to many forms of persecution and injustice, including being forced to live within one small, designated area of the city.

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A depiction of Jessica, Shylock's daughter,
from "The Graphic Gallery of Shakespeare's Heroines."

The Moneylender’s Daughter

When The Moneylender’s Daughter begins, it’s a year after Shylock has been banished. He returns to Venice, arriving unexpectedly at his daughter’s home, intruding on the life she now has as a Christian with her Christian husband. Eventually, their reunion sets them both on a journey of personal discovery and identity. This new play explores themes of anti-Semitism, and faith, topics that are as contemporary today as they were over 400 years ago.

 

The Jewish Question

 Shakespeare and the Jews

Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? …warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?

These lines from The Merchant of Venice are among Shakespeare’s most famous. In the play, Shakespeare indulged in anti-Jewish stereotypes, yet also depicted Jews as real people with feelings and emotions, a thought that was revolutionary at the time.

 

Jews were banned from living in England, yet some Jews secretly lived there.

When Shakespeare was born in 1564, Jews had been banned from living in England for 274 years. Yet Jewish communities did flourish in several towns in England, in secret.

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1830 painting by British painter Gilbert Stuart Newton titled
"Shylock and Jessica from The Merchant of Venice," II, ii

Why, then, would Shakespeare write one of The Merchant of Venice’s most pivotal characters as a Jew? And what was the religious and political climate that inspired him to create Shylock as such an unsavory character?

 

Given that Jews were absent from England while Shakespeare was writing The Merchant of Venice, it is unlikely that he derived the disposition of Shylock from any firsthand interactions with Jews. Instead, he sourced this character in prevailing misconceptions of Jews which bourgeoned throughout England without any real Jews to refute them by example of ordinary humanity.

 

Shakespeare influenced the ways that Jews

have been perceived for hundreds of years.

-Yvette Alt Miller, Ph.D., adjunct political science

 professor and author

 

Resources

This Guide is meant to provide some background knowledge of the time period reflected in The Moneylender’s Daughter and The Merchant of Venice. Sources include: Sparknotes, Folger Shakespeare Library, Britannica, NoSweatShakespeare, Wikipedia, Aish, and Dramaturg Jo Holcomb.

LOCATION

Highland Park Community Center Theater

1978 Ford Parkway St. Paul, MN, 55116

Free and easy parking

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