The MIT Merchant Module was born in the convergence of two singular anniversaries: the 500th of the Venetian Jewish Ghetto’s founding, and the 400th of Shakespeare’s death. Its distinctive design brings to students and researchers across the world an experimental, immersive environment of resources focused on The Merchant in Venice—a production of Shakespeare’s Merchant realized in the Ghetto by a professional company alive at every moment to the historic significance of its work. Throughout, the module is dedicated to pedagogy through performance. By combining digital tools with original footage and interviews, it allows all to explore interpretation through theatrical production, while encouraging its users to enter the ongoing collaboration that is performing Shakespeare in our time.
Collaboration is at the module’s heart: among academic researchers, students, and arts practitioners, pedagogically and professionally, along lines foregrounding the complex cultural heritage of which Merchant is part. Its status as a prototype on the global edX platform bespeaks its commitment to honoring the values of humanities education by translating them into an active online environment. The international reach of this platform thus casts The Merchant Module’s innovations as poised to shape one of the largest educational networks currently in existence.
By design, The Merchant Module provides a uniquely adaptable resource—one that moves from orienting users to Shakespeare and his language, through performance across media, to opportunities for creating, interpreting, and responding to the rich body of performance-related material it includes. Its approach speaks to a range of audiences, all of whom are free to advance their own goals in its multifaceted environment. Notably, The Merchant Module is also a living resource, with tools and features that users themselves may refine—and, in so doing, contribute their own voices to intersecting research communities. It advances conversations and considerations that Shakespeare’s play made visible and the modern world makes urgent.