The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0218 Thursday, 12 March 1998.
From: Stevie Simkin <
Date: Wednesday, 11 Mar 1998 15:28:17 -0000
Subject: 9.0213 Re: Anti-Semitism. Again.
Comment: Re: SHK 9.0213 Re: Anti-Semitism. Again.
Ira Abrams wrote in response to my post that
> When you speak of confronting <<those aspects of the texts we would
> today find repugnant>> it seems to me you mean those aspects of
> ourselves, which you believe are present in the play, which you find
> repugnant. This is why you are able to argue that the Holocaust is
> incipient in Merchant. The quality of repugnancy is not in the text
> anymore than the Holocaust is. It seems obvious to me, and I am not
> sure why it isn't to you, that if you want to find modern anti-semitism
> in Merchant, you are not trying to recover an early modern mindset, but
> trying to project a (certain) modern one onto it. It is no wonder that
> you are pessimistic about connecting with past minds if you go about
> this way.
I'm not sure why you assume I am finding modern anti-Semitism in the
Merchant. I am very specifically interested in finding out what I can
about how early modern Europeans viewed Jews: I think their notions
that Jews had a particular smell, that Jewish men menstruated, that they
indulged in religious rites that included crucifying Christian children
and drinking their blood are markedly un-modern. That is (a very small
part of) what I mean when I talk about their mindset being different
from our own.
I think we also have to recognise the impact those texts have today,
though: I've posted before about a production of *The Jew of Malta* I
directed recently that was adapted in such a way as to highlight the
text's anti-Semitism and to confront the issues of ethnic identity and
oppression (via a play within a play motif, with the Marlowe play being
staged as a propaganda exercise in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1939). It was
clear from a debate following one performance, with a panel consisting
of clergy, the chair of a local Reform Jewish Community, and a gaggle of
academics, that while the Jewish representative understood what we had
tried to do, the fact remained that to her the play was offensive and
should not have been staged at all. And that is because the play
resonates in a particular way post-Holocaust. Whether or not the
Holocaust is "incipient" in the original text is not the issue, although
the extent to which works like *The Jew* and *The Merchant* have
contributed to the history of anti-Semitism may be (back to the use of
Shakespeare's play in Nazi Germany, etc.)
What I am arguing for is a recognition of the difference between "us
Elizabethans" (ha!) in 1998 and "those Elizabethans" 400 yrs ago, and at
the same time an acknowledgement that the play will resonate differently
in its new context. Both are crucial. I am very clear, BTW, that our
choice of adapting *The Jew* as we did, _did_ mean it was abstracted
from its early modern context.
And for the record, the "guild of amateur psychotics trying to persuade
the world that we do not really think what we think, it is the texts
that think our thoughts for us" don't get my vote of confidence either.