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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: December ::
Re: Marlowe, Anti-Semitism
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.1243.  Saturday, 20 December 1997.

[1]     From:   Balz Engler <
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        Date:   Thursday, 18 Dec 1997 15:27:53 +0100
        Subj:   Marlowe, Anti-Semitism

[2]     From:   Stevie Simkin <
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        Date:   Thursday, 18 Dec 1997 16:16:44 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.1240  Re: Anti-Semitism


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Balz Engler <
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Date:           Thursday, 18 Dec 1997 15:27:53 +0100
Subject:        Marlowe, Anti-Semitism

Stevie Simkin's report reminds me of a production of The Merchant of
Venice at the Deutsches National Theater, Weimar, in 1995, directed by
the Israeli director Hanan Snin. The scene was an SS casino in a
concentration camp (Buchenwald is just a bus ride's distance from
Weimar). The SS officers want to be entertained, and they put on the
Merchant, forcing three Jewish people to play the roles of the Jews in
the play. For a detailed critical account of this impressive production,
see *Shakespeare-Jahrbuch* 1996, 176-78 (Maik Hamburger).

Balz Engler, Department of English,
University of Basel, Nadelberg 6, CH-4051 Basel, Switzerland,

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stevie Simkin <
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Date:           Thursday, 18 Dec 1997 16:16:44 -0000
Subject: 8.1240  Re: Anti-Semitism
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.1240  Re: Anti-Semitism

I was encouraged by Keith Richards' response to my post about our recent
production of *The Jew of Malta* and its Warsaw setting, particularly
the Brechtian note.

Keith refers to a production of Marlowe's play under the Third Reich and
notes that "for many reasons ... [J of M] did not work well to promote
anti-Semitism. ... it's completely over the top portrayal of what a Jew
"is" can serve as a Brechtian alienation effect, prompting critical
reflection among an audience composed of people who know Jews as
friends, colleagues, and neighbours."

This was precisely our strategy, with stylized, gestic portrayals of the
stereotypes, and with the "Jewish" actors quite clearly dropping in and
out of stereotyped roles.  With the whole company onstage throughout,
*in role* as Polish Jews, non-Jewish Poles, or German soldiers, the
responses of the onstage audience were crucial and very complex and
varied, the most blatant "acting up" of the Jews being stamped on by the
German officer playing Ferneze, while less sophisticated minds (one Nazi
in particular) evidently failed to realise the ways they were themselves
being ironized. Each non-Jewish Pole also responded differently to what
was happening.  The complexity of onstage audience response stimulating
"real" audience response was fascinating.

In turn, the friars' roles (first played by Germans) were hijacked by
Jewish actors halfway through the performance, so that the satirical
scenes (friars beating each other up in their rivalry to convert Barabas
and inherit his gold, etc.) became a retaliatory gesture - the Jews
taking Marlowe's anti-Catholicism and turning it against the Nazis.  A
further Brechtian moment came at the end of this scene where the Barabas
Actor cued the lighting box to jump out of performance light to
"houselights up"(on stage) (akin to Mouse Trap in Hamlet?) to deliver
his "Now for this example I'll remain a Jew; bless me, a friar and a
murderer?" speech.

I appreciate the note about historical accuracy (and thanks for the tip
on the reference), and we did make it clear in the production programme
how much artistic license was being taken here.  Part of the inspiration
for staging the play as we did had been my own research into the use of
M of V as propaganda (off the top of my head, 23 productions in 1933,
and 30 more between 1939 & 1939).  May you never again complain about
the umpteenth revival of Hamlet in a year...

Sorry for length of post.  I'll keep further discussion for off-list,
and the article I'm working on.  Thanks to all those who have responded
privately to me already.

Stevie Simkin

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