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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: March ::
Re: Anti-Semitism
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0280  Monday, 30 March 1998.

[1]     From:   Jacob Goldberg <
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        Date:   Saturday, 28 Mar 1998 11:21:25 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0268  Re: Anti-Semitism

[2]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Saturday, 28 Mar 1998 22:45:34 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0268  Re: Anti-Semitism


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jacob Goldberg <
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Date:           Saturday, 28 Mar 1998 11:21:25 EST
Subject: 9.0268  Re: Anti-Semitism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0268  Re: Anti-Semitism

Peter Hadorn says

> So to say that Jessica is a villain because she is a Jew
>(and I admit that this is not exactly what Goldberg said), is to
>imply-falsely-that the others are good because they are Christians.
>They aren't.

I enthusiastically agree with Hadorn's comment and can only hope that
the words <not exactly>, above, were transposed, in error.  Shakespeare
does not call Jessica a villain(ess); he makes her act in a way to evoke
that label (from me, at least) while outwardly describing her as a happy
kid, a rotten kid (thanks, Bill Godschalk).

Jessica is not a villain because she is a Jew. Neither is she a villain
because she falls in love with and marries a Christian.  She is
repugnant (to me, at least) because she wounds her father by devaluating
her mother and, rotten kid that she is, is happy about it.

As for Shylock, it is difficult (for me, at least) to see him as a
villain at all.  Before the contract with Antonio was drawn up, Shylock
offered to loan the money without interest.  When the contract was made,
Shylock could not have expected, realistically to collect a pound of
flesh, because Antonio was rich and had rich Christian friends who could
easily  rescue him, if need be.  (Of course, they didn't, did they?)

Shylock made a legal contract, legal under the justice system of
Christian Venice, under which he was an alien.  Christian Venice
permitted a debtor to bargain away his flesh and his life in
satisfaction of an unpaid money debt. The expressions of moral horror
that the Jew would so outrage Christian Venice's sensitivity by
demanding enforcement of such law have the smell of hypocrisy.

Can we suppose that Shylock was the first, and only, Venetian to invoke
that law?  Or just the first Jew to invoke it?

Perhaps Shakespeare was less anti-Semitic than he appears to be.  There
is a wide difference between the motivations of the MoV characters and
their words.  Shakespeare gave them both.

Jacob Goldberg

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Saturday, 28 Mar 1998 22:45:34 -0500
Subject: 9.0268  Re: Anti-Semitism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0268  Re: Anti-Semitism

I think Frank Whigham's comments on Jessica and the jewel are
intriguing, and should get anyone and any class thinking and puzzling:

>Trading a jewel for a monkey seems complex, if not opaque. Perhaps the
>monkey is a quasi-homunculus, a fake human, and thus a comment of some
>kind on Jessica's own rank/religion shape-shifting (also present in her
>boy's disguise). Perhaps the degrading (if it is) trade is meant to show
>some kind of psychic violence on Jessica's part. (I habitually teach
>this in conjunction with her earlier balcony statement "I'll make fast
>the doors and be with you straight," exhibiting a residual "fast-bind,
>fast find" nominally Jewish trait even as she breaks away.) The flinging
>away of a precious (and female-line) family jewel (in this complexly
>uncomfortable and transgressive marriage) seems to go, semiotically
>speaking, somewhere beyond youthful high-spirited prodigality of the
>sort we find usual in honeymood behavior, seems to me. Surely at least
>some of it is an ostentatious (well, maybe not; maybe just
>self-directed) exhibition of "Christian" belonging, open-handedness,
>anti-grasping (thus partly but clearly anti-semitic in my view), etc.

I really like the emphasize on the exchange:  Leah's jewel for a monkey,
and Shylock says he wouldn't give the jewel for a wilderness of monkey.
So the monkey must be important? And there's a good deal of
Medieval-Renaissance monkey lore that might just help to make this
exchange more complicated for the auditor.  But we are not at all sure
that the jewel is so important to the female line of the family.  Since
we do not know who Leah is in Shylock's life, she may well be the woman
he did NOT marry.  Maybe he married Rachel instead.  Or perhaps he did
marry Leah, but really wished to marry Rachel.  You can make up any
scenario (no Martians, please) since we have no (not the slightest bit
of) evidence.

Now why would monetary or financial liberality be anti-Semitic?  Next
big party I give, I should feel anti-Semitic?  No, no, no!  Some people
think that Shakespeare was rather shrewd with a shilling.  He certainly
invested wisely, and <italic>Timon</italic> shows us what happens to the
big, liberal spender.  I'm sure you all can tell me why I should see
Shylock's parsimony as "bad" and Bassanio's unthoughtful spending (of
Antonio's money, almost gets the guy killed) as "good."  But I'm pretty
skeptical.

Yours, Bill Godshalk
 

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