Supreme Court Justice Rules on Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice

News   Supreme Court Justice Rules on Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice
Things would have gone very differently for Shylock if he’d been on the stand today.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg The Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

On a break from her U.S. Supreme Court duties, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg took part in an appellate panel that reviewed the evidence and issued a new ruling July 27 on the court case that concludes William Shakespeare's drama, The Merchant of Venice.

According to the ABA Journal, Ginsburg was one of five judges convened to re-hear the case in a mock court that was held in conjunction with a local production at the play’s location, Venice, Italy.

The play, written in the late 1590s, deals with antisemitic Venetian merchant Antonio, who finds himself forced to borrow a sum from the Jewish moneylender Shylock, whom he had formerly disdained and insulted. As collateral, Shylock asks for a pound of Antonio's flesh. When Antonio is unable to repay the loan, Shylock takes him to court, hoping to get revenge for his previous abuse by collecting the life-ending pound. But, in a famous court scene, Portia, the wife of Antonio's friend, disguises herself as a judge and finds in Antonio's favor based on the fact that the demand for a pound of flesh was tantamount to murder. As punishment, Shylock is required to give up his daughter and half his fortune—and convert to Christianity.

Ginsburg and the rest of the 2016 panel considered the case and overturned the ruling on both substantive and procedural grounds. They ruled that no court would enforce the pound of flesh requirement in any case. Shylock should get his loaned money back, and there was no need for him to give up his property or to convert.

“The conversion was sought by Antonio,” Ginsburg told The New York Times. “The defendant in the case was decreeing the sanction. I never heard of a defendant in any system turning into a judge as Antonio did.”

Jonathan Pryce is currently appearing as Shylock in a production of Merchant of Venice at New York's Lincoln Center:

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