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Shakespeare in the Digital Age

Editors' Introduction

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare is a comedy written in 1598 and published in two quarto editions. The first quarto printed in 1600 by Thomas Heyes has nineteen copies that have survived. The second quarto was actually printed in 1619 by William Jaggard, but another version of The Merchant of Venice appears in the first folio from 1623. Out of the two quarto editions, quarto one is far by the most reliable source for the modern text of the play. Regarding the play’s performance history there are only two recorded performances of the play that were staged in the spring of 1605. When first reading The Merchant of Venice the word “Jew” immediately sticks out as the most repeated word of the play.

Shakespeare’s play is a representation of anti-Semitism that was prominent in his time. During Shakespeare’s time the abhorrence for Jews in Western Europe was long and bitter. Before Shakespeare started writing the play, in 1594 an outpour of anti-Semitism occurred in the trial of Roderigo Lopez a Portuguese Jewish man who had to convert to Christianity for attempting murder on Queen Elisabeth. Whether or not Shakespeare sought his influence from this case is unknown, but it is fair to say the discriminatory climate towards Jews of his time, definitely caught his attention, making him write the play to acknowledge a popular prejudice. [1]

For our critical edition we decided to select our sources from the three major forms of entertainment in pop culture: TV/film, music, and literature. These three genres offer a myriad of ways in which the ideas and themes in Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice can be interpreted, renewed, revisited, extended, and debated, through different lenses. Because TV/film, music, and literature are the go to sources for leisure and enjoyment, what better way to make Shakespeare’s play more interesting and relatable to a media frenzy culture. We selected references that embodied the themes of the play such as friendship, love, greed, generosity, commitment, choices and discrimination. We want to show how the themes of Shakespeare’s play coincide with the time we are living in, continue to shape the core of our morals, push us to reexamine the human condition, and fix the disconnect between students, who find the bard’s works boring and confusing. We chose mainly to annotate our sources by establishing a link between characters from TV/film and literature that we believe can be analyzed as modern versions of the figures in The Merchant of Venice, to help make sense of the characters personalities of the play and how they shape the play’s plot. We will offer a brief explanation of each group member’s contribution to our critical edition. To offer an individual breakdown of why we chose to focus on three different genres to reinvent perceptions of The Merchant of Venice.

Our edition consist of a majority of references that are works based on characters from the play and a few references that are inspired by Shakespeare broadly. A majority of our references fall under the genre of TV/film. From an academic point of view Shakespeare plays are read for critical analysis of rhetorical elements, but lets be honest Shakespeare’s works function better away from a desk, when it is brought to life through performance on a stage. TV/film acts as a visual aid of performance, for our play, using characters to play parts and act out scenes that express authentic emotions and personality similar to the characters of our play, as well as conflict situations that we are cringe to witness and are grateful not to be apart of like owing someone a “pound of flesh” in our play. In Act 3, Zohayra Castillo connects the themes of love and commitment to popular culture TV shows and film. Her work demonstrates commitment as constituting moral character and developing our own principles of what makes a person good, just as Shakespeare demonstrates with the character of Antonio who is committed to helping his friend Bassanio even if it costs him his own life. For example Zohayra uses the character Elijah from the hit TV show The Vampire Diaries to show how through Elijah’s performance in the TV show as an honorable man who keeps his word to those around, just like Antonio. David Fasanya and Saudia Haniff use the Harry Potter series in different ways to connect to the themes of discrimination and generosity in the play. For Act 2 David uses the character Dobby to connect to the theme of discrimination. He compares Dobby a servant elf to the wizard family the Malfoy’s, to Lancelot who is a servant to his master Shylock. Both characters are similar in their situations as servants who are mistreated and discriminated by their status as slaves than servants, and who struggle for the journey from servitude to freedom. For Act 4 Saudi uses the friendship of Harry, Ron, and Hermione to connect to theme of generosity in the play. Like Portia who disguises herself to save Antonio, Ron and Hermione disguise themselves to prevent their friend Harry from detainment by the wizard corporation. 

Music is an important genre in our edition because of its ability to combine lyrical language and instrumentals to convey a strong message. Music has a way of touching our souls, making us feel better, and helping us understand our experiences as universal. The theme of young love is portrayed as complicated and compelling in Act 5 of The Merchant of Venice. In Act 5 Melinda Maharaj connects the song “Love Story” by pop songstress of our time Taylor Swift to the theme of young love. Act 5 consist of Lorenzo and Jessica speaking of famous love stories that end in tragedy, and start to compare their young love as tragic, to imitate these historical love stories, that linger in history and memory, to make their love special and unforgettable. Through Taylor Swift’s song “Love Story” she also compares young love to the tragic love story of Romeo and Juliet with the lines “Romeo Save me” expressing through lyrical language and instrumentals that transition from soft guitar to a buildup of numerous instruments to express Lorenzo and Jessica’s speech of young love as something mesmerizing, chaotic, and exciting all at the same time.

The genre of literature is essential to our critical edition because we wanted to show how
modern writers are influenced by Shakespeare’s characters and plot development when writing their own books. For Act 1 Quan Chau connects to the theme of choice through the novel The Scarecrow King by Jills Myles. Quan shows us how the author structures a similar plot and character development of Portia and her situation regarding marriage. The Scarecrow King focuses on a daughter of a king, who is forced to go through suitors whom she all despises like Portia, to fulfill her father’s choice of finding the right guy for her. Jills Myles takes a page from Shakespeare’s play because she exhibits the theme of choice for women like Shakespeare but in a modern context, as something that women continue to lack and fight for in modern society, and are still limited by because the male gender continues to overshadow and control women’s choices by having more than them when it comes to the job market especially.

Our goals and expectations for our edition are to show how the themes of our play love, friendship, generosity, greed, and discrimination can be reexamined and better understood through popular forms of entertainment. Through TV/ film, music, and literature we hope as a group to fix the disconnect of undergraduates students taking a Shakespeare class for the first time, by using our edition as a guide to understanding the bigger ideas of the play and how their favorite TV character, movie, artist, or author are decoding what the characters of the play who speak in flowery language are saying and feeling. We hope students can use our edition as a crutch that allows them to take what they see in everyday life from popular media, and apply it to a Shakespearean work they may have found boring or hard to understand. 

For Shakespearean lovers, our pop culture edition will elevate their favoritism for the bard, and explore other ways of viewing Shakespeare through different forms of popular culture lenses that they use everyday for entertainment. For the laypeople, we want to use our pop culture edition to discard the stereotype of Shakespeare as dull and only relevant to poets and thespians. Instead, we want laypeople, who are not familiar with the bard, or believe in this stereotype, to know that Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice, at the end of the day is a comedy that explores the chaotic nature of relationships, love, and gender with wit and style. For the laypeople, we hope our edition will open their eyes up to these topics that are expressed in all forms of modern media every day. Overall, we hope people from all different walks of life can use our edition to understand how our play explores the human condition and shapes our principles of life by influencing how we define love, friendship, goodness, and injustice.

[1] Shakespeare, William, Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard,
Katherine Eisaman Maus, and Andrew Gurr. The
Norton Shakespeare. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008. Print.

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