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May 18, 7 pm - The Lawyer and the Judge

The Merchant of Venice & Measure for Measure 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS & RESOURCES FOR: Chapters 2 & 3 of the book A Thousand Times More Fair: What Shakespeare's Plays Teach Us About Justice by Kenji Yoshino.

 

Yoshino’s book chapters provide sufficient plot and character of both plays supplying the context for discussion and it is not essential to read the whole plays. A few links provided below should provide additional context.

 

Discussion Questions:

 

1. Mercy and Justice: Both plays deal with mercy and commensurability in different ways. The two heroines Portia and Isabella both have important speeches on mercy. How do the two speeches differ in their presentation and how does that relate to how we as a society see ‘mercy’? Who do we see as deserving mercy and who doesn’t?

 

2. The charmed circle of inclusion: The Christians in The Merchant of Venice form a generous tribe supporting each other, but that generosity depends upon inequities built into the power structure. How is this reflected in today’s society?

 

3. Female power and fear of sexuality: Both plays show men threatened by female power and sexuality and two very different responses by their heroines. Portia uses and abuses rhetoric while Isabella runs away from society. How do we respond to these two characters in the post-#metoo era? What aspects of sexuality threaten society today?

 

4. Cruelty: Both plays feature those in power abusing that power in cruel ways, with punishment often outsized to the crime. Why is Shylock’s punishment so extreme? Why does the Duke torture Isabella by making her believe her brother is dead? Does a power structure overreact to being threatened?

 

Some useful resource links:

 

The court scene from The Merchant of Venice

Measure for Measure as a ‘problem play’ - The British Library

Copies of A Thousand Times More Fair are available for purchase at River Lights Bookstore with a 15% book club discount. River Lights Bookstore is located at 1098 Main Street in Downtown Dubuque, 563.556.4391.