Head of Toronto all-girls school fired over antisemitic version of ‘Merchant of Venice’ play
Toronto, ON – Judith Carlisle, The head of an all-girls private school in Toronto has been fired for failing to warn students ahead of time of the antisemitic contents of a play based on Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice before it was performed in front of a Grade 11 and 12 audience this month.
Administrators at Bishop Strachan School (BSS) said in a letter to parents on Friday that Judith Carlisle has been let go following a review.
“The process failed to adequately prepare the students or provide appropriate context which exacerbated the damage, a reality for which we are deeply sorry,” BSS board of governors said.
“In hindsight, it was an error. An internal review is underway to establish guidelines and procedures to ensure this will not happen again.”
The controversy surrounded an adaptation of the play which students of the school watched on Oct. 17.
A letter signed by 24 parents and sent to the school said the one-man show contained demeaning, derogatory and inappropriate language with antisemitic sentiment that was offensive to Jewish students.
“The Box Clever production was meant to provide a modern spin to the Merchant of Venice play and link the antisemitic messages to those that Hitler used in the Holocaust,” the letter wrote.
“Instead, as described below, Box Clever materially exaggerated the antisemitic sentiment of the original version of the play and sadly introduced the Holocaust in a humorous light that minimized its impact and offended many of the Jewish students whose families were personally affected.”
A statement released by Carlisle on Friday said the version of the play was “well received” when it was performed at Oxford High School in the U.K., while she was head of that school, but admitted she regrets there wasn’t a plan in place to ensure that teachers were fully prepared to engage the students on the play.
“I would never deliberately offend students entrusted to my care or their parents. That was not my intention,” Carlisle said.
“As head, the responsibility for that oversight ultimately rests with me. I deeply regret any hurt or offence that has been caused by this and any damage that it has done to members of the broader BSS community or to BSS, an institution that I deeply respect.”
In the letter to parents, BSS issued an apology and acknowledged those who came forward to express their concerns.