The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0815 Tuesday, 8 September 1998.
From: H. R. Greenberg <
Date: Monday, 7 Sep 1998 15:19:09 EDT
Subject: Globe Merchant
I was recently in London, and had a compelling epiphany of sorts at the
Globe, which I share, realizing that some of the readership may cavil,
but am posting to ascertain if there have been any similar reactions to
this production, or at any rate what readers might have to say about the
following report. .
Said epiphany took place at my third visit. On my first, walking in, I
found myself moved to tears-a rare event-simply at being THERE, the pure
sense of place so potent.
Saw A MAD WORLD MY MASTERS and THE HONEST WHORE which I took as
intriguing second string stuff but OK for giving some sense of various
Elizabethan preoccupations, cuckoldry, money, so forth.
Then THE MERCHANT OF VENICE. The first Globe production I had seen in
reasonably period dress and mise en scene. I have been accustomed to
deliberately "noble" Shylocks this side of the Atlantic, Carnovsky et
al, but have always felt that Shakespeare's humanism does not hide an
essentially anti-Semitic vision consonant with the period's highly
prejudicial view of the Jew in most quarters. I've not taken much
umbrage at this-or at least not too much under the rubric of so what
else is new.
Despite what some critics have said in mitigation, perceiving a
tenderness or depth of spirit that I submit is totally lacking this
time around, the Globe's Shylock is thoroughly repellant, portrayed as a
hooknosed vengeful materialist, and the famous "Hath not a Jew...."
speech is spoken in the spirit of justifying his monomaniacal lust for
revenge. The audience, by no means all British, many tourists from a
variety of countries, hooted him, and applauded the Venetians in general
and "The quality of mercy is not strained..." in particular. They got
thoroughly in the spirit of the thing- which reportedly is par for the
course in other Globe villain/hero scenarios.
Perceiving all this, I had a spate of very mixed feelings-anger,
revulsion, a wish to cry out in protest, but also a strange sense of
liberation-why, here it is, out front, the very thing itself, and no
liberal horseshit in the way, while at the same time the egregious
anti-Semitism did not diminish my love of Shakespeare one whit, in
contradistinction to my now absolute disgust with Heidigger and De Man.
And then, the epiphany or summit of irony or whatever one would call it:
I had a sharp mental image of Sam Wanamaker, hounded out of America
during the blacklist (being a Jew wasn't the main reason, but as the old
joke goes, I'll give you a dollar if it did him any good); he
re-establishes his career in England, for which much relief a good deal
of thanks, subsequently dedicates himself to restoring the Globe, which
is accomplished, and now in aid of showing this vile Merchant of Venice.
I don't quite say that without the Jewish Wanamaker there would have
been no Globe, but I do not say otherwise either. All in all, the pity
of it, the pity of it...
Again, I would appreciate reactions, opinions, et cetera. I know this is
very old territory, and we have heard all the arguments pro and con the
status of Shylock's goodness or badness before, but this was a very new
and fresh experience.
Harvey Roy Greenberg, MD