Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Shakespeare Play Offers Opportunity to Discuss Stereotypes

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Shakespeare Play Offers Opportunity to Discuss Stereotypes

Article excerpt

Byline: John Carter, Times-Union staff writer

She says she wanted her classmates to learn to develop a kind of X-ray vision when analyzing literature and history.

And she feels certain she succeeded with a symposium on prejudice and stereotypes she and English teacher Janet Hall organized and conducted for 10th-graders at Stanton College Preparatory School.

She is Dana Kresel, an 18-year-old who lives in Mandarin and is in the International Baccalaureate Program at Stanton.

The recent symposium focused on ethnic stereotypes in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice.

"I was hoping the students would come away from these discussions by learning to go beneath the surface when looking at art or history," she said. "I feel great about how it turned out. Many people feel they can now look at the play in a larger context."

She said that each autumn Stanton puts on a Shakespeare play and last fall was planning to stage The Merchant of Venice, with the infamous character, Shylock, a Jewish money lender who plans to "exact a pound of flesh" from a borrower who can't repay a loan.

Despite the genius of the language, many critics, particularly since World War II, have agreed the problem of anti-Semitism in the play looms large. Critics also argue a close reading of the text shows Shylock as a stereotypical caricature of a cruel, money-obsessed medieval Jew.

When parents of some Stanton students feared a backlash in presenting the play, Kresel, who is Jewish, said she and her mentor, English teacher Hall, decided they couldn't ignore the work.

She said they decided on organizing a symposium to encourage students to dig below the surface to examine, not only The Merchant of Venice, but other works of literature and history more critically. She specifically wanted students to begin to consider how ethnicity, groups, gender and even social class are depicted, and think about how those portraits may have been colored by bias of the times or the writer. …

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