NRO’s Shakespeare symposium contains some clever comments by contributors on their favorite plays--see Charlotte Allen, Rick Brookhiser, Joe Queenan, et al. No one mentioned Merchant of Venice, so let me propose that oddest of comedies. The often prescient George Anastaplo expressed his disgust at the play, but (following Brookhiser’s take on the boldness of The Winter’s Tale) that is one of its beauties, as it drags us in and out of the muck. The Merchant is in many ways a tale about America--commercial and diverse, with an underpinning of slavery.
A former colleague told this insightful joke: A man takes his mother to her first Shakespeare play, a performance of Hamlet. Afterward, she remarks on how much she enjoyed the play but hadn’t realized Shakespeare was so full of cliches.