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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: February ::
Re: Anti-Semitism
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0133  Friday, 13 February 1998.

[1]     From:   Roger Gross <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 11 Feb 1998 15:48:47 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0121  Re: Anti-Semitism

[2]     From:   David M Richman <
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        Date:   Thursday, 12 Feb 1998 11:56:28 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0121  Re: Anti-Semitism


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Roger Gross <
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Date:           Wednesday, 11 Feb 1998 15:48:47 -0600 (CST)
Subject: 9.0121  Re: Anti-Semitism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0121  Re: Anti-Semitism

The Arnold Wesker Shylock play is titled THE MERCHANT, not SHYLOCK.  My
copy is a Penguin Books publication, WESKER, V. 4

There is also a 'school edition' with lots of commentary, historical
background, etc. and a Preface by Wesker, published by Methuen Student
Editions.

In his Preface, Wesker says: 'The Jew in Shakespeare's play is meant to
embody what he wishes to despise.  That he gives Shylock lines with
which to defend and explain himself has more to do with his dramatic
instinct for not making the opposition too black, which would lessen
credibility and impact, than it has to do with a wish to be kind to a
poor Jew....There is no evidence anywhere else that Shakespeare was
distressed by anti-Jewish feeling.  The portrayal of Shylock offends for
being a lie about the Jewish character...like Shylock, I'm unforgiving,
unforgiving of the play's contribution to the world's astigmatic view
and murderous hatred of the Jew.      I ceased finally to be a
'forgiver' when, in 1973, watching Laurence Olivier's oi-yoi-yoi
portrayal of Shylock in Jonathan Miller's production at The National
Theatre, I was struck by the play's irredeemable anti-semitism.  It was
not an intellectual evaluation but the immediate impact I actually
experienced..   Here was a play which, despite the poetic genius of its
author-or who knows, perhaps because of it!--could emerge as nothing
other than a confirmation of the Jew as bloodsucker.  Worse, the
so-called defence of Shylock-'If you prick him doth he not bleed'-was so
powerful that it dignified the anti-semitism.  An audience, it seemed to
me on that night, could come away with its prejudices about the Jew
confirmed but held with an easy conscience because they thought they'd
heard a noble plea for extenuating circumstances.'

This sounds right to me.

In his book of essays, DISTINCTIONS (Jonathan Cape, 1985), he includes
'Extracts from a New York Journal Kept During Rehearsals of THE
MERCHANT' and a piece called 'Why I fleshed out Shylock'.

THE MERCHANT is a very good 'antidote' or corrective to Shakespeare's
version of the Jew in Venice.


(Historical tidbit:  Zero Mostel was cast as Shylock in the American
production of THE MERCHANT but died on opening night of the out of town
tryout in Philadelphia, 8 Sept.,1977.)

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David M Richman <
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Date:           Thursday, 12 Feb 1998 11:56:28 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 9.0121  Re: Anti-Semitism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0121  Re: Anti-Semitism

I am familiar with Halio's admirable edition of *The Merchant of Venice*
and I have some familiarity with the play's stage history.  I would be
grateful for responses to specifically theatrical questions.  How did
the recent R.S.C. production treat these-if at all?  How have other
productions you have seen or heard about treated them?

1. Shylock's speaks of being kicked and spat upon.  Ought the audience
to see Antonio or others kicking, spitting upon, or otherwise physically
abusing Shylock?  Is there such staging in some productions?  Is there
no such staging in others?

2. What do Salanio and Sararino do during the "hath not a Jew eyes?"
speech?  Do they listen respectfully?  Do they laugh and taunt the
speaker?

3. Is Jessica's running away with Lorenzo-staged perhaps as a
satyrnalian masque-a love-scene, an abduction, something between the
two?

4. How is Shylock's last exit staged.  "I am not well."  Is he on- or
offstage, or leacing slowly, or hurrying off, or pushed off, or walking
off with dignity, as Gratiano makes his speech about the "gallows not
the font?"

I'd be especially curious to know from Stevie Simpkin how these matters
were handled in the London production.

David Richman
 

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