Like Don Quixote or Robinson Crusoe, Shylock is one of the great familiar figures of world drama, known even to people who have never read or seen The Merchant of Venice. He is also one of the most controversial characters ever conceived; his ambiguities have been a challenge to actors, directors, critics, and playgoers for more than four centuries. Is he villain or victim? Tragic or comic? What was Shakespeare's attitude toward the character described on the play's title page in 1600 as "a man of extreame crueltie, " and what should be our own? It was the brilliant notion of literary and theater critic John Gross to explore the complex and influential history that has given Shylock a life beyond the play and established him as a figure of world mythology. Beginning with the elements that went into Shylock's creation, Gross traces his evolution on the stage at the hands of legendary actors such as Charles Macklin and Edmund Kean on down to George C. Scott and Laurence Olivier. Shylock has enjoyed equally colorful treatment on the page, where he has troubled and stimulated writers as different as Marcel Proust, Henry James, Heinrich Heine, and Erica Jong. Gross pays particular attention to Jewish attitudes toward Shylock, and to his place in the history of anti-Semitism, his use as an economic symbol, and his importance to psychologists and psychoanalysts. The result is a remarkable cultural study that sheds as much light on our shifting attitudes and beliefs as on the rich and disquieting figure Shakespeare created.
January 19, 1994
5.54 X 8.52 X 1.01 inches | 1.12 pounds
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About the Author
John Gross FRSL was an eminent English man of letters. A leading intellectual, writer, anthologist, and critic, The Guardian and The Spectator were among several publications to describe Gross as "the best-read man in Britain"