Royal Shakespeare Company Casts Palestinian as Shylock in New Production of 'Merchant of Venice'

Makram Khoury has almost 50 years' experience on the Israeli screen and stage and was the first Arab recipient of the Israel Prize.

Tzahy Lerner / WIkimedia Commons

A new production of Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice," produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, features Palestinian actor Makram Khoury as Shylock, the Telegraph website reported on Thursday.

Khoury, 69, was born in Jerusalem to an Arab Christian family and spent some of his childhood in a refugee camp in Lebanon. He has worked in film and on stage in Israel for close to 50 years and was the first Arab to win the Israel Prize.

He will make his Royal Shakespeare (RSC) debut in Polly Findlay’s production of "The Merchant of Venice," which opens in Stratford-upon-Avon on May 14.

The Jewish merchant Shylock is one of Shakespeare's best known and most controversial characters. "People gang up on you when you play Shylock," said actor Patrick Stewart, who has played the role.

"But what keeps you coming back to him is that he has some of the most interesting, colorful and idiosyncratic language in Shakespeare. Nobody else speaks like Shylock. It sets him apart."

Khoury was cast as a Holocaust survivor in the film "Magic Men," last year, a casting decision that was highly controversial and prompted many people to refuse to work on the project, according to director Erez Tadmor.

"A lot of producers didn’t want Makram," Tadmor said. "It was a serious problem. People said he doesn’t know about the Holocaust and about Judaism. They said no-one will come to the movie. They shut the door in our faces.”

Makram has appeared in American TV series "The West Wing" and "House of Saddam," and in Steven Spielberg’s film "Munich."