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English City Bans Distribution of Poster for ‘merchant of Venice’

June 20, 1990
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The City Council of the northern English city of Leeds has banned distribution of a controversial poster for the Shakespearean play “The Merchant of Venice” that local Jewish leaders call anti-Semitic.

The poster, which had been used to promote a production of the play at the Leeds Civic Theater, features a pair of jackboots in the shape of a swastika marching across a yellow Star of David.

Richard Manning, the Jewish representative to the City Council, complained that the sight of hundreds of swastikas displayed throughout the city was both “provocative” and “offensive” to Jews.

Local authorities responded by ordering the poster withdrawn from shop windows in the city.

An alternative poster was distributed, but the London-based Phoenix Contemporary Theater Co., which is staging the play, claims both the City Council and the Jewish representative overreacted.

The current production of the play has been updated to take place in Mussolini’s Italy, and its director, Gerrard Riedy, claims the poster was justifiably relevant to the period.

“We have been touring for months and never received any complaints before,” Riedy said.

But he added that “there is no way that we intended to cause offense. After all, the play is about anti-Semitism it is not an anti-Semitic play.”

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