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For today's lovers of Shakespeare, Hamlet, The Tempest, and King Lear signal the incomparable vision of the bard. But a century ago it was The Merchant of Venice, more than any other Shakespeare play, that captured the popular imagination. Heralded as one of Shakespeare's greatest achievements, the play was enshrined in the school curriculum, widely discussed in the popular and scholarly press, and performed as a long-running smash hit on the London stage.
In Shakespeare and the Politics of Culture in Late Victorian England, Linda Rozmovits considers how and why The Merchant of Venice came to exercise such a powerful hold on late Victorian society. From debates about Portia and the politics of the New Woman to emerging concerns about the changing nature of citizenship, capital, and the longstanding Jewish Question, The Merchant of Venice served as a lens through which people filtered their experience of social life and social change. The relationship between the play and the people who studied it, read it, and watched it being performed, was an extraordinarily dynamic one, and it is the nature of this strange and dynamic relationship that this book explores.
"In this impressive book, Linda Rozmovits explores both why and how The Merchant of Venice spoke to late Victorian concerns -- about the role of women, the use of wealth, and the place of the alien within English culture -- more directly than any other play by Shakespeare (and probably any other work besides the Bible). Rozmovits succeeds in showing not only how the play reflected these concerns, but also how it was appropriated by Victorian writers in order to promote conservative notions of social, sexual, and economic identity." -- James Shapiro, Columbia University
"Lively, original, well-conceived, and well written, this book is extremely readable, even fascinating, in its development of the cultural idea of reception. The late Victorian Merchant of Venice Rozmovits describes is a revelation, and she makes it clear why Henry Irving's Shylock was such an extraordinary success. We are plunged into Victorian cultural history and offered a new understanding of the intellectual world in which Shakespeare was received." -- Maurice Charney, Rutgers University