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The Merchant of Venice: Teaching the Gray Area

Think Beyond Initial Reactions


If you could teach any of Shakespeare's plays, which would it be? These four teachers are excited to say The Merchant of Venice as it will challenge their students in more ways than one.


"With Merchant you can have an immediate relationship to a character, but when you start to look at them you're kind of forced to hate them a little bit..." says Sara Lehn. Meanwhile, Christina Alvarez is certain that the play will challenge her students to think critically about ambiguous situations. Robert Thompson likes teaching this play because it raises more questions than answers.


On another hand, "We're plagued with this question as teachers... what Shakespearean play can we teach during American literature?"


Amber Phelps plans to teach The Merchant of Venice as part of her American Literature unit. Her approach is to study how outsiders attempt to achieve the American Dream, and Shakespeare's Merchant gives us many parallels for a "non-normative outsider" reacting to the culture around him.


Shakespeare's plays challenge us in more ways than we think! Challenge your students to defend a character they relate to, or to change their mind about a character they thought they liked. How would changing one character's actions affect the whole play? Most challenging of all: name the "good guys" or "bad guys." Do any characters really fit into either category?








Teach "Complexity of Character in The Merchant of Venice" by Christina Alvarez.








Unknown artist. Merchant of Venice. I, 3. Tinted engraving, late 19th-century? 

Shakespeare Quarterly

Jews in Early Modern England

Teacher Resources

Online Resources for Teachers

Folger Digital Texts: The Merchant of Venice

Teacher Talk

"I like that it challenges my students to think beyond their initial reactions to what they've read."

~Sara Lehn

Roslyn Middle School

Roslyn, NY

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