a work of contemporary fiction set in an historical context? Then you might get an uproar!
The Rotten Apple Injures its Neighbour
I don't see anything racist with presenting characters who are racist in a story or play. That does not make the play or story itself racist. If you look at the movie The Help about southern blacks in the US during the 1950s or 1960s you will see a lot of racist people and situations portrayed, but that doesn't make the movie itself racist. The movie goes beyond any of the racism exhibited in the characters.
I think if the story was contemporary then it has all the possibilities to expose the truth of anti-semitism. I would hope that people squirm in their seats.
I guess thinking about the play I've written, which exposes a shameful part of a country's racist history among other things, I don't expect it to offer comfort or answers - just a stark aftermath. How the audience deal with that is anybody's guess.
The Rotten Apple Injures its Neighbour
The Merchant of Venice is not antisemitic, by any means. Take into consideration the fact that Shylock could care less about his faith. Judaism and Christianity are both against usury, but the usury laws only applied to the Christians, and the Jews were free to do what they wanted. Shylock is a sorry excuse for a Jew, and Antonio is a sorry excuse for a Christian. Antonio plays the phony Christ character. Instead of trying to defend himself and speak up, he acts pitiful and just takes it. Christ had a reason he had to die (according to the gospels). What excuse does Antonio have? He's trying to act like some martyr, but he's completely perverting Christ's example. Shakespeare is poking fun at religious hypocrites, not the religions themselves.
While Professor Leggatt, for the New Folger edition, suggested that various readings are "allowed" by the text and historian Michael Wood complained that there are too many unanswered questions left at the end of the play, the author made it difficult to rate the portrayal of Shylock anti-Semitic. Shylock's "I hate him for he he is a Christian, / But more.....," echoes Romeo's "Here's much to do with hate, but more with love." Romeo threatens to kill himself with a dagger to "sack / The hateful mansion"(ROM3.3). Shylock's "I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?"(MV3.1) echoes Juliet's "What's Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot, / Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part / Belonging to a man"(Rom2.1). Shylock's "My deeds upon my head! I crave the law"(MV4.1.204 or so) might recall lines from Hermia's father Egeus in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM: "Enough, enough, my lord; you have enough. / I beg the law, the law, upon his head"(MND4.1).
TMOV is a brilliant play with a portrayal of a Jewish character that is both anti-semitic and humanizing. That isn't surprising, considering nobody was better at humanizing characters than Shakespeare, but he was still the product of an anti-Semitic culture and era. There are many non-anti-Semitic texts that have anti-Semitic characters. South Park is one if them. TMOV is not.
The Merchant of Venice is a sore spot for people who think Shakespeare could do no wrong. People make mistakes. I think it is better to view the work as anti-semitic and not try to sugar-coat it.
I'm reminded of Norrie Epstein's interview with an actor in her book THE FRIENDLY SHAKESPEARE where she says: "The play drives me crazy." Therefore, I have found it helpful to note that from the first line to the last, the text is linked to ROMEO AND JULIET. Also, in MND we find Egeus bringing his problem to the Duke of Athens in the first scene: "Full of vexation come I, with complaint / Against my child, my daughter Hermia."
In Act 2, scene 2, the clown Lancelet presents a debate between his "conscience" and "the fiend." In ROMEO, the Friar is introduced with a lengthy monologue speaking of virtue, vice, grace and rude will. Therefore, when Shylock says "I am debating of my present store"(1.3), we can make of it what we like. As note #145 suggests, anti- semitism is a real concern. If we allow Antonio and Shylock to feel emotions as real people do, it is a matter for discussion, as we have seen.