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But never mind about politics: Arnold Wesker's The Merchant and its critics

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Arnold Wesker's play The Merchant (1983) is usually discussed as a response to its Shakespearean original, The Merchant of Venice, and criticized for being both too full of irrelevant historical detail and insufficiently attentive to history in the Marxist sense. The latter charge overlooks the fact that Wesker's play was not just about Shakespeare's supposed anti-Semitism, but also signalled his own disillusionment with radical politics. In his analysis of history, Wesker had concluded that capitalism was more likely to promote tolerance of minorities than alternative systems. His growing disillusionment with the left sprang from his experience of Communism in Eastern Europe, and from the Middle East wars, in which the capitalist West backed Israel. The play also reflects Wesker's quarrels with radical colleague John McGrath over cultural politics. The Merchant does not mark Wesker's farewell to politics, therefore, but a reorientation of his politics away from radical socialism.
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Keywords: Arnold Wesker; The Merchant; adaptation; contemporary relevance; disillusionment; radical socialism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Utrecht University, The Netherlands.

Publication date: 2011-01-01

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  • Adaptation, or the conversion of oral, historical or fictional narratives into stage drama has been common practice for centuries. In our own time the processes of cross-generic transformation continue to be extremely important in theatre as well as in the film and other media industries. Adaptation and the related areas of translation and intertextuality continue to have a central place in our culture with a profound resonance across our civilisation.
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