I'm not even going to bother linking to this, since we probably all know the story. Some students over in the UK refuses to take their Shakespeare exams because of the anti-Semitism in Merchant of Venice. The thing is, the exam itself was on The Tempest, MoV wasn't even part of the curriculum. They were making a statement about the entirety of Shakespeare's canon, not just the one play. And, that these were some sort of national standings exams, so their failure to take them resulted in their school tumbling in the standings.
Here's my opinion.
I think they're stupid and they deserve to fail.
I'm not a fan, at all, of close-mindedness. Let's assume for the minute that you have actually read MoV and come to your own conclusions that Shakespeare is anti-Semitic, and this bothers you greatly. You owe it to yourself, then, to learn more about the man's work, to see if this is a theme that permeates his entire literary output, or if it is instead just a single character in a single play. To simply say "I didn't like this play therefore I refuse to read anything by him, regardless of the cost to myself or my school" is ... misguided? At best.
That doesn't even bring up the question of whether MoV is actually anti-Semitic at all, and if so, whether that also means that Shakespeare was. Some people dismiss it with a simple "those were the times, everybody was anti-Semitic back then." Personally I don't think it's that simple. I think that Shakespeare was showing us anti-Semitism as a mirror up to ourselves and saying "Don't you get how ugly you come off looking? Are you missing the basic hypocrisy, here?" He didn't just draw a character and stick a big Jew sign on him, he gave us a very complex individual. A father who lost a daughter, for one. Shylock may come off as a bad guy, sure, but is that because of his own nature, or because that is the role that the rest of society forces him into?
The play is supposed to be a comedy, so it's a reasonable assumption that Shakespeare was not trying to hammer us over the head with his life lessons. But I have to wonder, did people walk out of there thinking, "Well, you have to have a little sympathy for the Jew, don't you?" It goes back to a regular topic here on this blog about the timeliness of Shakespeare's message, and whether his audiences just wanted a simple play where they could spot the good guy from the bad guy, or whether it was more complex than that. It seems a very great irony in stories like this that we've become just as simple, haven't we? Only we've become the worse for it. Dear god in heaven he portrayed a Jew in a negative light, therefore he must be anti-Semitic! It can't possibly be more complex than that! Quick, compare him to Hitler! (I'm not kidding, earlier today I read a blog post that compared this issue to what it would be like if Hitler wrote a nice romantic comedy in his youth. NOT THE SAME THING!)