Over 16,000 free tickets for a new production of The Merchant of Venice have been distributed to state secondary students as part of this year’s Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank.
The production is the latest in a joint project between Shakespeare’s Globe and Deutsche Bank to deliver fast-paced, compelling productions that are especially designed for 11- to 16-year-olds but still retain Shakespeare’s language.
The Merchant of Venice is a risky choice for a production aimed at young people. Often grouped together with the “problem plays”, this is a piece of drama with no easy answers or quick fixes. The plot is hard to follow and the issues that it deals with − anti-Semitism, debt and self-interest to name a few − are challenging and uncomfortable; enough to send most secondary teachers running straight back to their dog-eared copies of Romeo and Juliet.
But the students watching this production weren’t running anywhere. They were involved in the action, shouting advice to Bassanio as he faced a choice that could win or lose him the love of his life and gasping in outrage when Shylock was forced to denounce his Jewish faith and become a Christian.
“The issues that are raised in The Merchant of Venice are as important today as they were 400 years ago; debt, racism and isolation are subjects to which we can all relate to some degree,” says Bill Buckhurst, the director of the production. “Some of the characters are making tough decisions that will affect them for the rest of their lives; Jessica’s decision to run away from her father and turn her back on her faith is a very courageous and bold step.”
Selecting The Merchant of Venice for a school performance was a bold step for the Globe, yet the ensuing production has managed to engage young audiences and bring one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known and lesser-studied plays to life.
Find out more and access free online resources to support the study of Shakespeare in schools at the Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank site.
Further resources for teaching about Shakespeare’s life, language and poetry can be found on our teaching Shakespeare hub.