Paula Marantz Cohen has been teaching literature for 30 years, and the longer she teaches, the more she enjoys teaching Shakespeare. As Cohen grows older and wearier, she says the Bard’s plays seem to deliver greater matter and art in a more condensed and lively way than any other text she could choose. To be clichéd about it: Shakespeare offers more bang for the buck.
While Shakespeare now draws me more than ever before, one work in particular draws me most. This is The Merchant of Venice. For me, this extraordinary play grows increasingly subtle and supple with time. It continues to excite me with its language, its depth of character, and its philosophical, political, spiritual, and pedagogical implications. Looking back over my years of teaching the play, I see that the way it has been received by my students is an index to how our society has changed. I also see how much the play continues to push against established readings and to challenge even the most seemingly enlightened perspectives. The Merchant of Venice is both a mirror of our times and a means of transcending the bias of our times. It teaches how to teach.