A popular British children’s author omitted “The Merchant of Venice” from his adaptation of William Shakespeare plays for young audiences.
One reason: anti-Semitism.
“Yes, there was some worry that this might be the first time an 8-year-old reads about a Jew,” Michael Morpurgo told The Guardian on Monday about the decision not to include the play in the “Tales from Shakespeare” anthology for children older than 6.
“A story that the Nazis used to portray Jewish people in a bad light – that is not something you put in front of an 8-year-old as their first example of an extraordinary group that has contributed so much to the world and suffered so much.”
Morpurgo, the author of “War Horse” and “Kensuke’s Kingdom,” was quoted by The Times of London as saying that “The play can be anti-Semitic … I did feel this was Shakespeare’s play and I could not tell it honestly. It would be offensive.”
He told The Guardian that The Times had played up the weight of anti-Semitism in his decision.
It is “not a play I enjoy myself. I didn’t ‘refuse’ to include the play, no one told me to do it – I sat down quietly and decided the 10 I would do,” he said. Calling his decision censorial is “completely wrong and a knee-jerk reaction,” he added.
The play is about a merchant who fails to pay back a loan to a greedy Jewish moneylender named Shylock, who demands a pound of flesh as a penalty for defaulting on the loan. Its two famous speeches are "Hath a Jew not eyes," Shylock's plea against antisemitism and his daughter Portia's "The quality of mercy is not strained."