Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (BOLLI)

Shakespeare Sides With Shylock: A Close Look at THE MERCHANT OF VENICE

Course Number


Study Group Leader (SGL)

Richard H. Weisberg


This course will take place virtually on Zoom. Participation in this course requires a device (ideally a computer or tablet, rather than a cell phone) with a camera and microphone in good working order and basic familiarity with using Zoom and accessing email

5-Week Course

Feb. 28 - March 27.


The Merchant of Venice, first performed at the Globe Theatre around 1600, continues centuries later to provoke and inspire actors, directors, scholars, and audiences. The play concerns the Jewish money lender, Shylock, who famously forms a contract with his merchant adversary, Antonio, in which Antonio pledges a pound of his flesh should he fail to repay the loan on time. The play is one of Shakespeare’s most popular and is performed more often than any other Shakespeare play but Hamlet. The BOLLI community will meet The Merchant of Venice during a period of intense suffering within the worldwide Jewish community. The play, often wrongly considered to be antisemitic, in fact offers both consolation and explanation to the Jewish reader in 2024, but all readers will benefit from exposure to the Bard’s ethically beautiful language. Week after week, our intensive look at this “comedy” reveals potential answers to the perpetual problem of Christian antisemitism. 

Group Leadership Style

Roughly the same amount of lecture and discussion.

Course Materials

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare (any edition). Students must bring their copy (and preferably not work from an online text) to each session. Additional materials will be provided on a class website or by email links. We may screen parts of excellent film productions (e.g. the Pacino and Olivier Shylocks).  

Preparation Time

Students will need to read one act per week of this play. Since we are reading the play closely, students also are advised to re-read each Act and think about the discussion questions that have been posed. Preparation time for each session is 3 hours per week.  


Richard H. Weisberg is a distinguished scholar of both Shakespeare and antisemitism. His book, Vichy Law and the Holocaust in France (NYU), led to his participation as a litigator in a successful U.S. Federal Court claim against French banks for Vichy wartime theft. His ongoing work with French officials to help repay Jewish property losses merited his receiving the French Legion of Honor (2008). He was an Obama appointee to the U.S. Commission on the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad. Among Weisberg’s books on Literature are Poethics and Other Strategies of Law and Literature (Columbia), where he devotes a full section to The Merchant of Venice.