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The Merchant of Venice — Now More Than Ever


by Stephen Becker 20 Oct 2008

I finally got around to catching Shakespeare Dallas’ The Merchant of Venice this past Saturday up in Addison and was struck with how current some of the play’s themes are. No, not the stuff about helping out a friend in need and love and stuff like that — I’ve seen too many political attack ads […]

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I finally got around to catching Shakespeare Dallas’ The Merchant of Venice this past Saturday up in Addison and was struck with how current some of the play’s themes are. No, not the stuff about helping out a friend in need and love and stuff like that — I’ve seen too many political attack ads of late to think about such niceties. Rather, what resonated with me was the parallels with the current financial crisis.

In case you’ve forgotten, the play centers on Antonio, who wants to loan his friend Bassanio some cash. But Antonio is short, so he takes out a loan from the moneylender Shylock, thinking his ships will soon come in and he can pay Shylock back. If Antonio fails to pay back the loan, Shylock gets a pound of his flesh (a.k.a. — some heavy duty collateral).

Sounds a little like predatory lending in the extreme, no? Money is lent out, and the terms of the deal are so outrageous that if the borrower defaults (as Antonio does), it’s unlikely the lender will collect.

And what happens in Merchant of Venice? Let’s just say Shylock is less than satisfied after Antonio — rather than he — receives the ultimate government bailout. (Too bad for him his name wasn’t Fannie or Freddie.)

What’s the point of all of this? I realize the analogy isn’t perfect, but maybe if the banking industry had paid a little more attention to the lessons of the arts we wouldn’t be in this mess.

If you haven’t caught the show, it moves up to Denton this weekend for its final performances.

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  • Sarah

    Insightful analysis! I saw the play as well, and I thought it was strange how it had been half-modernized…some characters were wearing modern suits and using cell phones, but the women were dressed in Renaissance garb. Weird. But great performances! I’m always amazed at how those actors can memorize that challenging Shakespearean dialogue.

  • Lindsay

    I think this is a very interesting parallel, though it is a shame we can’t relate more of the niceties to our general impressions of society these days.