Posters beyond provocative

The Vagabond Theatre’s posters promoting an upcoming production of The Merchant of Venice, a play written by William Shakespeare, have come under fire for their offensive use of Nazi symbolism.

The posters show a Nazi flag without its characteristic swastika, but with a star of David in its place. The posters were designed to advertise a production directed by students Nathaniel Fried and Ryan LaPlante which aims to address the anti-Semitism in Shakespeare’s era by comparing it to the issue’s 20th-century connotations.

Since hearing of the controversy, Fried and LaPlante have removed any remaining posters across campus, which were initially approved by the JDUC front desk, and have apologized to Queen’s Hillel.

The directors encourage anyone who has been offended by the posters to buy a ticket to see their show.

The promotional poster apparently aimed to have shock value and failed to clearly address the academic look at anti-Semitism the production claims to take. Subversion of common symbols or expectations is nothing new from Vagabond Theatre, but the creation of this month’s Merchant of Venice poster verges on hate imagery rather than innocent controversy.

Depicting the Star of David, a symbol of Judaism, superimposed upon a Nazi flag, an overt symbol of oppression, is offensive to Jewish people, especially in the context of the play’s 20th-century set.

The fact the poster was approved in the first place is unsettling and suggests there should be much more pointed discretion involved in the approval process.

It’s encouraging the production’s directors have taken positive steps to make amends. It’s unlikely the directing team intended to create hate imagery, but it was insensitive to use the subverted Nazi symbol for advertising in a public space where people don’t have a choice of whether or not to view it. With little context to justify its boldness, the poster failed to be productive.

Pushing boundaries in a mature and informed way for artistic reasons is one thing, but creating sensational symbolism to sell tickets is another. The Merchant of Venice poster demonstrates a choice made without considering its possible ramifications.

The directors’ desire for people to come see the play, even if they found the poster’s symbolism offensive, is transparent. We can only hope the production sheds a more informed light on anti-Semitism than did its poorly thought-out advertising efforts.

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