Post-Shoah Shylocks
: Adapting 'The Merchant of Venice' for twentieth and twenty-first century audiences

  • Cynthia May Martin

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


In spite of the anti-Semitic sentiments scattered throughout the play, The Merchant of Venice remains, even after the Holocaust, one of the most popular and frequently performed works from the Shakespeare canon. Although much has already been written on the play’s anti-Semitism, Shylock, and various individual productions, an in-depth global study of the Holocaust’s impact on performance remains untouched. This research, then, traces how perceptions of Jewish identity have changed since the Holocaust, and how these changes have irrevocably altered the representations of Shylock and Jewish persecution in Shakespeare adaptation. Utilising a rich methodology which includes postcolonialism, trauma theory, modernism, psychoanalysis, and feminism, this PhD thesis analyses adaptations from around the world from mainly nonmainstream traditions. In doing so, this research ultimately demonstrates that postwar Merchants function as an invaluable and flexible channel through which to interrogate both the Holocaust and its aftermath.

Chapter One investigates how the popular medium of film has largely informed public understandings of the Holocaust, and how the complex issues associated with these narratives affect filmic Merchant adaptations which reference the Shoah. Chapter Two analyses the ethics of spectatorship in Merchant productions which explicitly frame the Holocaust through the play-within-the-play construction. Chapter Three features what the author calls ‘meta-Merchants’, or adaptations of The Merchant which openly interrogate The Merchant, and discusses both how this self-reflective narrative construction creates an opportunity to consider the fate of Jewish identity in a post-Holocaust world and how Shylock is inevitably a crucial part of this equation. Finally, Chapter Four explores how non-Anglophone adaptations from Austria and Israel have appropriated The Merchant of Venice to discuss the meaning of citizenship for Jews in light of the Holocaust.
Date of AwardDec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorMark Burnett (Supervisor) & Edel Lamb (Supervisor)


  • The Merchant of Venice
  • Shylock
  • anti-Semitism
  • Global Shakespeares
  • post-Holocaust
  • Shakespeare adaptation
  • Shakespeare appropriation
  • Shakespeare performance history

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