“With memories of the horrors of the last ten years and forebodings about anti-Semitism, it is difficult to look objectively at a play in which the villain is a Jew.”
That’s Auden, in 1946, opening his lecture on The Merchant of Venice. This must be one of the earliest examples of anti-PC posturing, and much as I love Auden, it all goes downhill from there: he asserts that the play has “…no thought of racial discrimination.” Well, let’s see how Portia reacts when her Moorish suitor picks the wrong box:
Portia: A gentle riddance. Draw the curtains, go.
Let all of his complexion choose me so.
Objectively, the play is about as racist as can be; not because the villain is a Jew, but because he’s a villain because he’s a Jew, and the end of the trial scene is depicted as getting the come-uppance he jolly well deserves.
Also speaking objectively, apart from the two or three famous speeches, the play is not really that great, and Portia’s pick-a-box subplot is just silly.
[Edit – to students who are googling this page to find out what was in the three boxes: the first contained cheese, the second just had some pencil shavings, and the third had a copy of The Merchant of Venice so that you could read the goddamn play and find out for yourself like you’re supposed to, you lazy idiot.]