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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: February ::
More on Shakespeare and Anti-Semitism
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 105. Thursday, 25, February 1993.
 
(1)     From:   Fritz Levy <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 23 Feb 1993 23:38:02 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Jews
 
(2)     From:   John Mucci <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 24 Feb 93 18:18:00 UT
        Subj:   RE: Real Anti-Semitism
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Fritz Levy <
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Date:           Tuesday, 23 Feb 1993 23:38:02 -0800 (PST)
Subject:        Jews
 
If you'd like to find out more about Jews in Elizabethan England, the
person to ask is Jim Shapiro at Columbia U. (English Dept.), who is
writing a book on the whole subject.
 
Is Jim on the list?
 
Fritz Levy
History, University of Washington
 
[Jim Shapiro is not a member of SHAKSPER.  --hmc]
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Mucci <
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Date:           Tuesday, 24 Feb 93 18:18:00 UT
Subject:        RE: Real Anti-Semitism
 
Mr Cook: I showed some of the comments made on Anti-Semitism in
The Merchant of Venice to the editor of the *Elizabethan Review* and
I think his comments are of such a nature that those on SHAKSPER might
well consider them:
----------------------------------------
 
I think the only real way to determine if the author of _The Merchant
of Venice_ was anti-Semitic is to check his other work for references
to Jews and the context in which these references are made.
 
For instance, in _Much Ado About Nothing_ the hero (Benedick) is
wooing the heroine, Beatrice, and closes Act II scene iii with these
remarks: "If I do not take pity of her [Beatrice], I am a villain; if I
do not love her, I am a Jew."  To put these words in the mouth of
Benedick is wholly gratuitous and tells us that the author was deliberately
playing to the audience's prejudices and probably revealing his own --
or being amoral in allowing the dictates of commercial success to shape
his work.
 
There are other references to Jews in the canon.  For instance, in _Two
Gentlemen of Verona_, yet another "comedy" of Shakespeare's Lance speaks of
his parting from his family thus: "I think Crab, my dog, be the sourest-
natured dog that lives.  My mother weeping, my father wailing, my sister
crying, our maid howling, our cat wringing her hands... yet did not this
cruel-hearted cur shed one tear.  He is a stone... and has no more pity
in him than a dog.  A Jew would have wept to have seen our parting."
 
I could continue in this vein, but others can check out a good concordance
to see how Shakespeare uses phrases such as "icony Jew" and "Hebrew
Christian."  I think it conclusive that Shakespeare was an anti-Semite, and
wrote *MV* as an anti-Semitic tract.  What makes this so interesting is that
Jews, after being kicked out of England in 1290, had been forbidden from
returning until 1658 by Oliver Cromwell.  So Shakespeare--and the English--
didn't have any Jews to hate.  Why, then, have anti-Semitic references
in popular drama?  Good question.
 
---------------------------------------------------- Gary Goldstein,
                                                        Editor,
                                                        The Elizabethan
                                                        Review
 

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