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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: February ::
Shakespeare, Jews, and Anti-Semitism
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 108. Thursday, 25, February 1993.
 
(1)     From:   Stephen Orgel <
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        Date:   Thursday, 25 Feb 93 9:35:39 PST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0105  More on Shakespeare and Anti-Semitism
 
(2)     From:   Jay L Halio <
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        Date:   Thursday, 25 Feb 1993 14:52:54 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0104 *MV*: Anti-Semitism and Usury
 
(3)     From:   John Dorenkamp <DORENKAMP@HLYCROSS.BITNET>
        Date:   Thursday, 25 Feb 1993 13:57:06 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Shakespeare and Anti-Semitism
 
 
(1)-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephen Orgel <
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Date:           Thursday, 25 Feb 93 9:35:39 PST
Subject: 4.0105  More on Shakespeare and Anti-Semitism
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0105  More on Shakespeare and Anti-Semitism
 
How about the equally gratuitous "most lovely Jew" in MND??
 
Stephen Orgel
 
(2)-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jay L Halio <
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Date:           Thursday, 25 Feb 1993 14:52:54 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 4.0104 *MV*: Anti-Semitism and Usury
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0104 *MV*: Anti-Semitism and Usury
 
For David Bank:
 
Yes, there were Jews in Elizabethan England and London in particular, as
C.J. Sisson long ago discovered. They were not allowed to practice their
religion openly, but otherwise were permitted to engage in trade,
professions, etc. They were *marranos* from Spain and Portugal, usually,
but other Jews visited from time to time during the period of Exclusion,
including one Joachim Gaunse, who helped found the mining industry in
Wales. But whether Shakespeare and Marlowe actually knew Jews personally
or not is quite irrelvant, or so it seems to me. They were mainly drawing
on literary tradition and other sources for their portraits.
 
Jay Halio
 
(3)-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Dorenkamp <DORENKAMP@HLYCROSS.BITNET>
Date:           Thursday, 25 Feb 1993 13:57:06 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Shakespeare and Anti-Semitism
 
Gary Goldstein (via John Mucci) wisely suggests that we not limit ourselves to
_The Merchant of Venice_ in efforts to determine Shakespeare's attitude toward
Jews. Surprisingly (perhaps) references to Jews in the other works are hard to
come by.  Here's the count (via the Riverside Shakespeare and WordCruncher):
 
In the Tragedies        1
In the Histories        2       (and these are both in the same line:
                                 Falstaff's "I am a Jew else, an
                                 Ebrew Jew")
In the other Comedies   4
 
Of these 7 references not all are derogatory.
 
When we come to _Merchant of Venice_ we find, not surprisingly, 57 uses of
"Jew" (this does not include Dramatis Personae, Stage Directions, or Speech
Prefixes.) In addition, "Jews" appears 1 time, "Jewish" 2 times, "Jew's" 10
times, and "Jewess" 1 time.
 
In addition, the term "Jewry" occurs 7 times as follows:
 
  Merry Wives of Windsor  1
  Richard II              1
  Henry V                 1
  Antony & Cleopatra      4
 
Here in all instances but one ("stubborn Jewry" in RII), the use of the term is
neutral, identifying a place, e.g., "Herod of Jewry," "went to Jewry."
 
Any judgment concerning Shakespeare's anti-semitism must, then, be made on the
basis of _Merchant of Venice_.
 
Gary Goldstein's other observation that "Shakespeare--and the English--didn't
have any Jews to hate" because Jews had been expelled from England in 1290 and
were not permitted to return until 1658 is not quite accurate.  Witness the
celebrated execution of Lopez, the Queen's physician.  But whatever the
"physical" presence of Jews in England was, they were certainly present in
other ways.
 
They were much in evidence in the Bible, perhaps even to that boy driving the
plough who was Tyndale's audience. They were evident in sermons and in the
liturgy.  They were evident in the cycle plays, some of which were still alive
in Shakespeare's day.  In short, they were very much a part of the culture of
Shakespeare's time.
 
What anti-Semitism is, is perhaps impossible to determine. Maybe the perennial
question "What (or who) is a Jew?" can provide an approach to anti-Semitism as
well.  A late friend, a psychologist preferred this answer.  "A Jew is a person
who considers him- or herself to be a Jew or whom others consider to be a Jew."
 
John Dorenkamp
Holy Cross College

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