(Preti Taneja’s article appeared in the Washington Post, 3/5.)

Shakespeare’s plays contain anti-Semitism, racism and sexism, sexual abuse and violence; they magnify the tenor of their age. But should they be censored when they might offend a particular community?

Actor Mark Rylance, former artistic director of the Globe theater, recently said that he has sometimes cut “some unfortunate anti-Semitic things” from Shakespeare’s plays:

If a character says it, it doesn’t mean the author means it but since the Holocaust . . . these statements have a lot more resonance now than they did at that time.

The Merchant of Venice is the most obvious example here. It’s the play that most thoroughly reveals the anti-Semitism of Shakespeare’s day. Rylance’s words perhaps act as a kind of warning to theater makers in our current climate of fear, heightened by the attack on a Kosher supermarket in Paris after the shootings at Charlie Hebdo magazine in January.


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