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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: February ::
Re: Shakespeare and Anti-Semitism
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 96.  Saturday, 20 February 1993.
From:           Robert F. O'Connor <
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Date:           Saturday, 20 Feb 1993 16:56:27 +1000
Subject:        Re:  Shakespeare and Anti-Semitism
I think that one of the reasons contemporary audiences and readers of
Shakespeare find the overt anti-Semitism of 'Merchant of Venice' so
disturbing is its intensity. Shylock is so identifiably 'other' -- despite
the apparent Englishness of his name -- and the feelings against him so
strong and so obvious that we find we have to apologise for them. Perhaps
some (like me) brought up to believe in the essential 'greatness' of
Shakespeare find the anti-Semitism expressed here, or the sexism in 'Taming
of the Shrew', so distressing that we have to pretend that this not in fact
what they are, hence readings of the plays involving the recentering of the
marginalised etc.
We are used to villains in Shakespeare, certainly, but where is there a
level of loathing expressed about one even comparable to the sentiments in
'Merchant'? No one else comes in for this kind of serve. I think it is
reductive to try and defend the anti-Semitism represented in 'Merchant', or
to pretend it isn't there, or that it is in fact something else -- a reading
of the Homilies would soon show exactly what was thought of the Jews in
Elizabethan England. The question is not 'what is it?', or even 'why is it
here?'  Perhaps, in view of the discussion going on about performance
criticism, a more useful question would be 'what can we do with it?'

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