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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: February ::
Re: Postmodernism; Anti-Semitism
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0104  Sunday, 8 February 1998.

[1]     From:   Andrew Mathis <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 3 Feb 1998 10:19:20 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0098  Re: Postmodernism; Anti-Semitism

[2]     From:   Nick Oulton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 3 Feb 1998 16:13:22 +0
        Subj:   Anti-Semitism

[3]     From:   Kathleen Gormly <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 3 Feb 1998 16:58:56 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0098  Re: Postmodernism; Anti-Semitism

[4]     From:   Robert Dennis <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 4 Feb 1998 11:54:30 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0098  Re: Postmodernism; Anti-Semitism

[5]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 04 Feb 1998 17:04:26 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0098  Re: Postmodernism; Anti-Semitism


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew Mathis <
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Date:           Tuesday, 3 Feb 1998 10:19:20 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 9.0098  Re: Postmodernism; Anti-Semitism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0098  Re: Postmodernism; Anti-Semitism

I'm just writing to suggest that scholars interested in Anti-Semitism
vis-a-vis Shakespeare would do well to read 'Shylock' by Arnold Wesker,
a 20th century, still-living British/Jewish playwright

Andrew Mathis
http://pages.nyu.edu/~aem0608/mel.html

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Nick Oulton <
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Date:           Tuesday, 3 Feb 1998 16:13:22 +0
Subject:        Anti-Semitism

I have not seen either of the 2 productions of the Merchant referred to
by Stevie Simkins. But I can imagine her disappointment. She expected
productions in which raving Nazis (symbolising Margaret Thatcher) would
persecute Shylock (symbolising the proletariat)  but the theatre did not
oblige, and her students' revolutionary conscience must have been left
sadly unaroused.

But let's look on the bright side. How many times have we been told that
art is meant to shock and to cause us to question our preconceptions? In
the case of Stevie Simkins, the RSC and the Salisbury theatre seem to
have been on the right lines.

Nicholas Oulton
Senior Research Fellow
National Institute of Economic and Social Research

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kathleen Gormly <
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Date:           Tuesday, 3 Feb 1998 16:58:56 EST
Subject: 9.0098  Re: Postmodernism; Anti-Semitism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0098  Re: Postmodernism; Anti-Semitism

Why read Shakespeare?

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robert Dennis <
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Date:           Wednesday, 4 Feb 1998 11:54:30 -0500
Subject: 9.0098  Re: Postmodernism; Anti-Semitism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0098  Re: Postmodernism; Anti-Semitism

On Monday, 2 Feb 1998, Stevie Simkin <
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 > wrote:

   >... aspects of Shakespeare's work might reflect something
   >local and historical about early modern ideology that we
   >might today find distatesful.  That is why I'm so hung up
   >about the RSC Merchant of Venice I saw last week, I s'pose.

and

   >...  it leaves the text's (more or less - lots to debate)
   >tacit anti-Semitism in place...

and

   >... a production that would grapple with the question of the
   >text's anti-Semitism...

and yet again,

   >... attempt to efface the text's anti-Semitism...

And hung-up you indeed appear.  But isn't the hang-up itself an effect
derived from the viewer's own modern perspective?

I find _NONE_ of Shakespeare's plays to be anti-semitic (tacit or
otherwise).  Let me explain.

I see the Merchant of Venice as expressing an anti-'other' or
anti-'us.vs.them' viewpoint, rather than an insult to a specific faith,
culture, or ethnic group.  Just as I read Othello _not_ as a racist
play, but as expressing a modern multi-culturalist view, whereby all
parties (races and genders) are conceived equally prone to good and
evil, strength and weakness.  This is probably a rather modern
universalist view which I, myself, am laying onto the plays, just as you
are laying your own views onto them.  Behind the 'high-tech' criticism
of the Godshalk-Hawkes universe, this seems to be what they are saying:
that we consciously or unconsciously lay our own perspectives onto the
textual material, and cannot avoid such effects in our interaction with
the text.

Thus you cannot describe "the text's anti-Semitism" and make any sense
to someone who is not laying that same ideology onto the text.

Whether you agree that we reader/viewers are inserting our own cultural
relativism or not, however, in order to maintain at least a minimum
contemporary logical consistency of argument, it seems we must conclude
either:

1) that there is meaning in the literature, e.g., Shakespeare had the
elements of my interpreted multi-culturalism in mind _and_ he also had
in mind your interpretation of anti-semitism;

or,

2) that both interpretations stem from insertions of viewpoints by
modern  viewers, e.g., your concern over anti-Semitism is an insertion
_and_ my reading of multi-culturism is an insertion.

It appears to me the second option is the more logical choice.

We cannot reasonably conclude that Shakespeare had one set of 'modern'
ideas in his Renaissance mind, e.g. your Anti-Semitic slant, but totally
excluded another conflicting set of 'modern' ideas, e.g., my
multi-cultural slant.  Both supposed readings are modern ideas.

With respect to the RSC's production which bothered you so greatly, in
performance, Shakespeare's work may be interpreted, performed, or used
to support either viewpoint, with neither blame nor praise falling to
old Will himself.  Whatever is or is not in the written play may bear no
relation to what is or is not onstage at the time of performance.  See
any number of modern "versions", "interpretations", or "adaptations".

At least that's how it seems to me: that no matter how many times one
repeats the shibboleth of anything specific (such as racism,
Anti-Semitism, or multi-culturalism) being "in the text", it just ain't
so.  Simple logic and the more advanced criticism says, it is "in
ourselves".

Sincerely,
Bob Dennis

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[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Wednesday, 04 Feb 1998 17:04:26 -0500
Subject: 9.0098  Re: Postmodernism; Anti-Semitism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0098  Re: Postmodernism; Anti-Semitism

Stevie Simkin writes:

>Discussions with the students were fruitful only in so far
>as we were able to debate the conditions that determine the production
>and reception of a potentially explosive text such as The Merchant of
>Venice in a repertory theatre based in an affluent cathedral city in the
>south of England (contexts and dominant interpretations again).  In this
>respect, the attempt to efface the text's anti-Semitism served to
>highlight the reasons why such a decision might have been taken in the
>first place.

I have several problems with this passage.  First, who determines which
discussions are "fruitful" and which are unfruitful?  We need to know
the criteria used to determine fruitfulness.

And, if T. Hawkes is correct, Shakespeare's text is not anti-Semitic.
Someone interprets the text to be anti-Semitic.

Back in 1964, Morris Weitz in <italic>Hamlet and the Philosophy of
Literary Criticism</italic>, suggested that there are three modes of
criticism: descriptive, explanatory or interpretive, and evaluative.  In
the descriptive mode, the critic describes what he or she sees; e.g.,
Hamlet kills his uncle, and the description can be verified by reference
to the text.  In explaining, the critic moves one step away from
verification by reference to the text; e.g., Hamlet kills his uncle
because Hamlet has an unresolved  Oedipal Complex.  And, of course, the
critic's evaluation is even harder to verify; e.g., Hamlet's murder of
his uncle is morally correct. I think Eco would call "description" the
"dictionary meaning."

I wonder if we can use Weitz's analysis to talk about the nature of
meaning.  We can describe what happens in the script of a play, and
verify by reference to the script.  Yes, Antonio admits to abusing
Shylock.  But once we interpret the script itself as anti-Semitic, we
have to argue for our interpretation using facts from the script.  We
may agree on Antonio's rotten treatment of Shylock, and still disagree
on how that treatment should be interpreted. Do you or don't you blame
Shylock for wanting revenge on Antonio, or Hamlet for wanting revenge on
his uncle?

Yours, Bill Godshalk
 

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