A wide-ranging survey of critical responses to Shakespeare's masterpiece. The Merchant of Venice has always been one of Shakespeare's most popular plays. However, the critical tradition reveals sharply divided opinions, reflecting the tremendous capacity of the play to provoke discussion among its readers and audiences. This volume collects the work of over seventy commentators writing between 1775 and 1939 (when the first signs of Nazi anti-Semitism are noted). They include well-known critics and scholars, such as Hazlitt, Ruskin, Furnivall, Brandes, Moulton, Stoll, Spurgeon, Wilson Knight and Middleton Murry, but also little-known writers who addressed the Jewish issues in the play with some authority: George Farren, Israel Davis, Sidney Lee, Charles Salaman, 'El Seyonpi', F. S. Boas, Israel Gollancz, Gerald Friedlander, and Cecil Roth. In addition, reflecting the play's great popularity in the theatre, this collection documents four celebrated interpretations of Shylock (Macklin, Kean, Edwin Booth, and Henry Irving), and two of Portia (Helen Faucit, Ellen Terry).
William Baker is Presidential Research Professor, Department of English, at Northern Illinois University. He is the author/editor of numerous books and his The Letters of Wilkie Collins was honoured by Choice as one of 2000's most outstanding books.