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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: April ::
Related to Merchant
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0327  Thursday, 9 April 1998.

[1]     From:   Frank Whigham <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 08 Apr 1998 11:42:44 -0500
        Subj:   Brides and Anti-Semitism

[2]     From:   Syd Kasten <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 8 Apr 1998 22:47:51 +0300 (IDT)
        Subj:   From Leah to Monkey


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Frank Whigham <
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Date:           Wednesday, 08 Apr 1998 11:42:44 -0500
Subject:        Brides and Anti-Semitism

Regarding:

Urkowitz:

>to me [selling Leah's ring] seems instead like a repudiation
>of  the bonds between momma and poppa in favor of her new relationship.

Taft:

>I particularly like your view because it relates
>back to Jessica's comment that "Our house is hell!" (2.3.2).

Any reason these statements need be seen as radically separate from
Jessica's surreptitious, unsponsored, and at least partly shameful
religious/ethnic eloping outmarriage and conversion? Why "instead"? Why
not as Shakespeare's redaction (non-simple, to be sure) of a multiform
negotiation of an unusually thickened moment of cultural transformation:
one that engages (1) age/life-stage (the entrance into adulthood and
authority, (2) the change from daughter to wife), (3) primary familial
orientation (the change from agnatic to affinal, stronger for early
modern women than men), (4) religious/ethnic orientation (from Jewish to
Christian), (5) economic status (from money-lender's daughter to the
fringes of Belmont's leisure class), and (6) some sort of zone of
cultural privilege (from membership in a despised and spat-upon minority
to membership in the satellite gentry of Belmont). Perhaps even color
(7), if Portia is blond and Jessica gilded. Plenty of room here for
several coincident kinds of departure from mom and pop and their
cultural locus, several more-or-less repudiations and celebrations, no?

To some degree aren't we (some of us, anyway) arguing rather about
whether to like or dislike the transition or transformation as Jessica
conducts it?

A further question: is there a sense in early modern England of some
kind of specialized eroticizing of the Jewish woman, as there seems to
be in the 19th century, with its "sultry" sense of the "Jewess"? Partly
Shylock and Jessica offer an opportunity to explore how (or whether?)
Jewishness is gendered in early modern England.

Frank Whigham

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Syd Kasten <
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Date:           Wednesday, 8 Apr 1998 22:47:51 +0300 (IDT)
Subject:        From Leah to Monkey

First of all, thanks to Frank Whigham (SHK 9.0258) for his

"I'll make fast the doors and be with you straight,"-

ever so much subtler than "a Daniel" of the trial in conveying a racial
attribute.  Unless these are a part of stock theatrical
characterizations of the times, I would consider closed the question as
to whether or not Shakespeare had met Jews.

Thanks to Mike Jensen (SHK 9.0268) for his focus on commitment.  Would
he add to his  list Tubal as an exemplar of a diligent expeditious,
altruistic and self-abnegating messenger?  And all these attributes
placed by the author in a Jew!?  Shakespeare an antisemite?!

Of the three Jewish characters in the play Tubal is the only one whose
name has a Hebrew meaning, even though it has not been used, to my
knowledge, as a name since the first chapters of the Book of Genesis.
The word means "seasoned".  It is of the same root (tbl) as the word for
*immersion* (John the Baptiser is known, at least in modern Hebrew, as
Yokhanan HaMatbil), and to an attuned ear might therefore imply ritual
purity.

The closest I can come to a Hebrew name for Shylock is Jacob's deathbed
blessing of his twelve sons (Genesis XLIX). In his blessing to Judah
"The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from
between his feet, *as long as men come to Shiloh*; and unto him shall
the obedience of people be." (v.9, Soncino Chumash, Soncino Press,
London).  The commentator in my edition informs me that the Authorized
Version is in accord with a Rabbinic tradition that Shiloh is one of the
names of The Messiah:  "until Shilo come".

Jessica gave me more trouble.  Iscah, another name of Sarah (Genesis XI,
29), Is a good possibility as a source, emphasizing Shylock's adherence
to his roots in naming his child.  On the other hand, as part of an
allegory another possibility presents itself: "-ica",  implying a
feminine diminutive, gives "Little Jesu"!

I agree with those who deduce that Leah (the unseen character who alone
in the play has a traditional Jewish name) gave Shylock a ring as an
engagement present.  On the other hand, the historical Leah was the
mother of Judah and of the majority of the tribes of Israel.

Keeping in mind that the acceptance of The Ten Commandments at Sinai is
embedded in the Jewish tradition as a form of marriage between God and
chosen people, and using the information offered by  Steve Sohmer (SHK
9.0306 Re: Monkeys) we can derive a cohesive, if incomplete  metaphor:

The Children of Israel were imbued with a sense of tradition and unity
from the time of the matriarchs and through the Egyption period
enslavement, the period of "bachelorhood" before the before the
"wedding" at Sinai. Of the "marriage" was born a daughter religion  who,
taking her message to the gentiles, assumed pagan values and squandered
her cultural birthright on the Bishop of Rome, the rest being history.
Shylock has earlier referred to the subsequent unhappy relations between
the mother and the daughter religions.

Is Shakespeare so malleable that we can make out of his lines whatever
we want, or are we truly discerning an agenda that he wove into the
fabric of his play?  Are there subliminal messages being transmitted
here?  After a mere fifty years from the publishing of the play Jews
were invited back into into England, ending more than three hundred
years of banishment.  Could MofV have been received by some as the
"Uncle Tom's Cabin" of its day.  It's true that it took only fifteen
years from the publication of Ms Stowe's best seller to achieve the
emancipation of the black slaves in the Reunited States, but the means
of disseminating ideas were much more evolved in the IXth century than
in the XVIIth.  (Interesting to me that Shakespeare, through Shylock,
pointed a subliminial finger at the institution of slavery.  Interesting
too that one hundred years after the Emancipation, "uncle Tom" had
become a pejorative in the freedom movement of the sixties.)

Season's Greetings,
Syd Kasten
 

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