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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: March ::
Re: Anti-Semitism
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0220  Friday, 13 March 1998.

[1]     From:   Ben Schneider <
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        Date:   Thursday, 12 Mar 1998 10:14:37 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0218  Re: Anti-Semitism

[2]     From:   Ira Abrams <
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        Date:   Friday, 13 Mar 1998 09:02:20 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 9.0218  Re: Anti-Semitism


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ben Schneider <
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Date:           Thursday, 12 Mar 1998 10:14:37 -0600 (CST)
Subject: 9.0218  Re: Anti-Semitism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0218  Re: Anti-Semitism

Stevie Simkin would reduce MV to "the persecution of Shylock."  Maybe
that's what you have to do to make it work for modern audiences, but it
wipes out 90% of the play, which is about sacrificing what you love the
most (life/wife) music, merriment, gratitude, trust, above all trust,
friendship.  Almost every line is concerned with these ideas, including
every line of Shylock's which negates them.

Yours ever,
Ben Schneider

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ira Abrams <
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Date:           Friday, 13 Mar 1998 09:02:20 -0500
Subject: Re: Anti-Semitism
Comment:        SHK 9.0218  Re: Anti-Semitism

Stevie Simkin writes:

>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.

You are reinforcing a point I made-that the attitude toward Jews of
Shakespeare's play is not coextensive with the anti-(if it is all
negative) Jewish sentiment of Elizabethan England.  Shylock does not
menstruate nor even drink the blood of Christians.  Even Marlowe's Jew,
though much more of a realization of a libel, does not necessarily
represent the Jew of the Elizabethan mind. The "mindset" you speak of
seems to me to be a modern construct-albeit one suspended by scraps of
historical documentation-and a very dubious one at that.

Shylock is not a verisimilar portrait (to Elizabethan minds) of a Jew,
but rather his Jewishness is ancillary to his outlaw status.  I think we
have to understand the notion of outlawry against a background of the
Germanic emphasis upon measure and settlement, along with Christian
reciprocal morality.  But this is a long topic.  Shylock's villainy is
not well understood in terms of Elizabethan sentiment toward Jews, nor
is the play as a whole. A more recent incarnation of the blood-drinking
menstruator, Alan Bloom, wrote a very interesting essay on Merchant
which touches on the problem of the law in the play.  It is reprinted in
<Giants and Dwarfs>.

Your production of The Jew sounded very interesting to me, but much more
as an ingenious theatrical experiment than as any sort of illumination
of the "text" you keep referring to.  It seems to me you are not really
looking for Elizabethans or texts, but rather-and this is no less
commendable-germane, serious and exciting material for the modern
stage.  Although I may be persuaded to rethink my amateur diagnosis of
amateur psychosis, I continue to be puzzled as to why you insist on the
historical basis of your readings and concerns, when you are clearly
oriented toward modern audiences and issues.

I wonder if anyone has ever staged Merchant in an Arab country near
Israel, and how it worked out.  It must have happened somewhere.  Arab
nations are considerably less Holocaust-centered than we are here in
EurAmerica-to put it mildly-and maybe there would be an opportunity to
get a break from the vice-grip of our own history if we were to look at
productions outside the post-Holocaust framework, ones in which
defamatory depictions of Jews might resonate quite differently with the
audience.  I don't suppose you had a PLO official on your panel by any
chance, did you?

Ira Abrams
 

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