Jeremy Irons Takes On the Bard's 'Merchant' Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons talks about his latest role as the title character in a film adaptation of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice -- a play some consider to be anti-Semitic for its portrayal of the vengeful Jewish moneylender Shylock.

Jeremy Irons Takes On the Bard's 'Merchant'

Jeremy Irons Takes On the Bard's 'Merchant'

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Shereen Meraji, NPR

Web Extra: Hear an Extended Version of Jeremy Irons' Conversation with NPR's Alex Chadwick

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Jeremy Irons as Antonio in a scene from The Merchant of Venice. Sony Pictures Classics hide caption

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Sony Pictures Classics

William Shakespeare's plays have inspired dramatists for centuries -- and more recently, filmmakers. But while generations of performers and theater fans readily embrace familiar dramas such as Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet, the Bard's The Merchant of Venice is considered more problematic.

The play's central conflict pits a vengeful Jewish moneylender against a generous Christian merchant in 16th-century Italy. Many find The Merchant of Venice to be an anti-Semitic period piece that can't be redeemed, even by the best performers.

But actor Jeremy Irons disagrees. Irons, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Claus von Bulow in the 1990 film Reversal of Fortune, plays the title character Antonio in a new film adaptation of The Merchant of Venice. He recently spoke with NPR's Alex Chadwick about the movie and his career.

The Merchant of Venice currently has a limited release -- it opens Wednesday in New York City and Los Angeles, and nationwide in January.