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Professor Says Merchant of Venice is Not for Junior Grade Students

February 23, 1984
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Students below Grade 12 should not be studying Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice because of its anti-Jewish stereotypes, according to a Carleton University linguistics professor. Dr. Aviva Freedman said the play helps “create and perpetuate” the image of the Jews as evil money grubbers.

Younger students, she pointed out, are not mature enough to read the work without perhaps being influenced by it. “They don’t have the intellectual sophistication to be able to see Shakespeare was using a stereotype of his time,” Freedman said. She plans to present a brief later this month to the Board of Education of Lakehead, northern Ontario, urging it to stop having this play taught in a Grade 10 class.

This year only one school in the northern Ontario city of Thunder Bay is teaching The Merchant of Venice, but that’s one too many, said Penny Grief, who is Jewish. She intends to ask the Board to drop the play entirely. Before the play was read in school, her daughter had never heard disparaging remarks about Jews, Grief said. But afterwards, two students who were given an assignment to describe what would constitute an ideal world spoke in derogatory terms about Jews within earshot of her daughter, Grief said.

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