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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: February ::
Re: Anti-Semitism
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0150  Wednesday, 18 February 1998.

[1]     From:   Charles Weinstein <
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        Date:   Monday, 16 Feb 1998 10:45:20 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0133  Re: Anti-Semitism

[2]     From:   Sean Kevin Lawrence <
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        Date:   Monday, 16 Feb 1998 10:27:33 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0145  Re: Anti-Semitism

[3]     From:   Stevie Simkin <
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        Date:   Monday, 16 Feb 1998 22:23:41 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0145  Re: Anti-Semitism


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Charles Weinstein <
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Date:           Monday, 16 Feb 1998 10:45:20 -0500
Subject: 9.0133  Re: Anti-Semitism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0133  Re: Anti-Semitism

Although Wesker originally called his play The Merchant, he now calls it
Shylock.  His recently-published diary of the ill-starred Broadway
production explains all this and more. Its title is:  The Birth of
Shylock and the Death of Zero Mostel.  So far, it's available only in
England.  It's a damned good read.

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Kevin Lawrence <
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Date:           Monday, 16 Feb 1998 10:27:33 -0800
Subject: 9.0145  Re: Anti-Semitism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0145  Re: Anti-Semitism

Dear all,

Larry Weiss's suggestion that the 'hath not a Jew eyes' speech might be
read ironically ties in with an idea I've been entertaining for a
while.  Has anyone seen Shylock played as a Nazi?  Of course, this is an
offensive reversal of victim and victimizer, but offensiveness isn't
always a bad thing in theatre, and such a production might also tend
towards making Shylock a bad man, rather than just an Elizabethan
stereotype.  In fact, it could call into question many of our own
stereotypes, both of Jews as victims and as Nazis as evil.  This isn't
to say that such a questioning will lead to political progressiveness,
but subversiveness and leftiness aren't as inseparable as some people
like to think.

The parallel could work fairly well, I think.  After all, Shylock is
embittered by his treatment at the hands of his peers, much like the
Germans were embittered at their treatment by Versailles, and unleashes
a holocaust of suffering all around by way of asserting himself.  The
victim becomes victimizer, in turn.  In fact, the themes of
victimization being passed on, or of reasonably likable people being
turned by their appropriation of their own treatment at the hands of
others into bloodthirsty monsters might offer some larger issues and
more genuinely productive self-reflection than the
Shakespeare-as-holocaust-film reading, in which MoV is just an object
lesson in the depravity of the past.

Cheers,
Sean Lawrence.

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stevie Simkin <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 16 Feb 1998 22:23:41 -0000
Subject: 9.0145  Re: Anti-Semitism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0145  Re: Anti-Semitism

Larry Weiss discusses  the "Hath not a Jew eyes" speech and concludes
that

"Shylock argues that Jews are human.  Solanio and Salerio (and the
audience) never  denied that.  Their point was that Shylock and other
Jews in Venice (and, by extension, all Jews) were inhumane, not
non-human.  (Shylock,  of course, confirms that point, at least to the
satisfaction of the  original audience.)  Viewed in this fashion, the
speech was intended to be funny and was probably received as such."

I have also felt uncomfortable about the standard reading of the speech
which takes it as a plea for tolerance, as a claim that Jews are just as
human as Christians. There are many ways the speech could be read,
perhaps, but when I saw the recent RSC production what struck me was the
conclusion of that speech ("will we not revenge") - if we see the speech
as culminating in this threat, it becomes NOT an attempt at justifying
not Jewish humanity, but rather a justification of the savage vengeance
he has in mind.  If you work backwards from the speech's climax, it is a
much less cosy speech.

I agree with Larry that we shouldn't give up studying the play on
account of its anti-Semitism.  And as I've said before, it's not as if
we can really "blame" Shakespeare for being anti-Semitic.  But the worst
thing we can do is try and claim for Shakespeare a PC-ness 400 years
ahead of his time and pretend the anti-Semitism isn't there at all.
 

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