Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: September ::
Re: Globe Merchant
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0837  Monday, 14 September 1998.

[1]     From:   Gabriel Egan <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 11 Sep 1998 09:22:10 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0834  Re: Globe Merchant

[2]     From:   Louis Swilley <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 11 Sep 1998 08:47:06 -0500
        Subj:   Shylock

[3]     From:   Abigail Quart <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Saturday, 12 Sep 1998 10:49:24 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0832  Re:  Audiences

[4]     From:   Kenneth S. Rothwell <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 11 Sep 1998 11:06:39 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0834 Re: Globe Merchant

[5]     From:   David R. Maier <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Saturday, 12 Sep 1998 02:14:04 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 90834 Re: Globe Merchant

[6]     From:   Hardy M. Cook <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Monday, September 14, 1998
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0834 Re: Globe Merchant


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 11 Sep 1998 09:22:10 -0400
Subject: 9.0834  Re: Globe Merchant
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0834  Re: Globe Merchant

Andrew Walker White writes of MV:

> if we can't deal with the fact that the play was anti-semitic,
> at a time when anti-semitism was as fashionable as,
> say, anti-islamism is today, then we probably shouldn't
> deal with the play at all.

This is an excellently appropriate comparison which makes me wish I was
teaching the play today. I'm expecting that American students, who might
be inured to the anti-Islamism on the televisions here, will find this
an enlightening window on Renaissance anti-semitism. Thanks Andrew.

Gabriel Egan

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Louis Swilley <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 11 Sep 1998 08:47:06 -0500
Subject:        Shylock

>From:           Alexandra Gerull <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
>Date:           Thursday, 10 Sep 1998 23:26:41 +0000

>What do we gain if we force a politically correct interpretation on
>plays like the Merchant? And does a Shylock not created as a noble
>victim or a highly complex character persuade the audience of the
>validity of anti-semitic prejudices. To interpret the dark spots away is
>to deny there existence. And where would that lead to?

Let's put aside the accusation of "political correctness" for a moment
and look at the play as a concert of characters and their motivations.
If Shylock is a Jew, perhaps it is possible to dig more deeply into that
culture to find complexities that will serve the presentation of the
MAN.  It is of no service to the play and its wonderful complications to
make Shylock a "noble victim" ; neither does it serve to present him as
a sniveling, conniving "Jew" (and damn Olivier, who should know better,
for presenting him so!).  There is a suffering, sinful, historical MAN
under that gabardine and the director and actor who find him will open
doors for us that lead to great treasures.  The first note to make is
that Shylock is a Venetian businessman of considerable wealth and
power.  Like Polonius, he is of such command that he does not even need
to remember what he has said - a snap of his finger to an underling
behind him, with a sharp question, "What was I saying?" produces at once
the information needed . It had better.  The proper image of him is of
J. Pierpont Morgan in all his ferocity.  He is taller than anyone else
on the stage and better dressed; he is publicly calm, icily amused by
the "pitiful" people with whom he deals - plays with, rather, as a cat
with a caught mouse.

Hidden under that, is his anxiety for his deepest beliefs, which, by
their venerable nature, are necessarily in contest with his present
actions and attitudes.  He loves his daughter but cannot show it;  her
elopement is the central and overriding cause of his viciousness with
Antonio.  He tells us worlds about himself when he laments the loss of
Leah's ring.

Such possibilities of character do not entertain those easy "politically
correct," "noble victim" considerations; nor do they invite Olivier's
ridiculous interpretation; here is a cosmopolitan man of the business
world, fluent in languages without a trace of Yiddish accent.  His
vocabulary is as sophisticated as any with whom he deals.

Where is that director, where that actor who will bring us this
wonderful character?

      L. Swilley

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Abigail Quart <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Saturday, 12 Sep 1998 10:49:24 -0400
Subject: 9.0832  Re:  Audiences
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0832  Re:  Audiences

Portraying Shylock as a "stage Jew" is like saying Shakespeare is just
another playwright. The people who come off as monsters in the play are
the Christians, those kind, generous people who spit on other people,
and encourage daughters to disobey their fathers. Sure, boo Shylock, if
you can do it without feeling queasy, if you can do it without seeing
yourself as one of the people doing the spitting.

In the same way, you can cheer Henry V, I know I do. The St. Crispin's
Day speech gets me every time. But the Harfleur speech uses imagery of
rape; and the Chorus makes damn sure you know the whole thing was for
nothing, because it's all lost in the next generation.

If all you get from a Shakespeare play is the booing and cheering,
you've missed it.

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kenneth S. Rothwell <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 11 Sep 1998 11:06:39 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 9.0834 Re: Globe Merchant
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0834 Re: Globe Merchant

Dear Fellow Shakespeareans,

I think Harvey Greenberg first raised the issue about the Globe MV but
now further remarks by John Mahon compel me to add my own ad hoc
thoughts. I made my pilgrimage (by tube from Green Park) to the Globe on
Saturday afternoon August 22, 1998, and after a pub lunch at the nearby
Anchor found my designated place in the upper gallery.  I cheated a bit
by not standing in the yard with the groundlings, who, as it developed,
turned out to be a vital part of the performance. I had by the way
booked months in advance by Fax, a smart move since it was a sold out
house that afternoon-SRO one might say. The audience that afternoon
chose not to hiss and jeer Shylock so far as I could tell from my lofty
perch. In fact Norbert Kentrup as Shylock generated enormous dignity
with an unobtrusively powerful performance.  That is to say, I had the
feeling that he was only drawing on a fraction of his inner reservoir of
strength.  His money lender, like Portia's lead casket in Belmont, may
be repellent on the outside but inwardly he possesses a sterling
integrity.  Marcello Magni as Launcelot Gobbo stole the show but clowns
always do. I left the wooden O feeling that the late Sam Wanamaker had
succeeded in coming as close as anyone ever will to restoring the
original atmosphere of Shakespeare's playhouse, despite the souvenir
shop.

It was another story on Monday evening when I attended the RSC MV in
Stratford and I am sorry to say that its Shylock bellowed his way
through the production, expending much energy but achieving little
momentum.  It was odd that the stage in the Stratford theatre generated
a shouting contest while the wide open ambiance at the London Globe,
with all its distractions, gave at least the impression of quiet
understatement. As for the question of anti-Semitism in MV, I think we
should remember that Shakespeare was recording Elizabethan ideology not
necessarily endorsing it, and he makes enough covert stabs at the
self-satisfied gated-community crowd in Belmont to provide equal
opportunity for all prejudices.  In any event Launce's wonderful dog,
Crab, in Two Gents took my mind off all these weighty issues.

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David R. Maier <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Saturday, 12 Sep 1998 02:14:04 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 90834 Re: Globe Merchant
Comment:        Re: SHK 90834 Re: Globe Merchant

I am troubled by some of the categorical statements made in this thread
that MV is an "antisemitic play." Perhaps these comments are directed
solely at the Globe production, which I have not seen.  However, from
their tenor, e.g. the suggestion that it be shelved or re-written, I
suspect that these judgments are not production specific.  If that is
the case, then I disagree in the strongest possible terms.

This past spring the Tygres Heart Shakespeare Company in Portland,
Oregon presented a production of MV which was powerful, intelligent,
deeply moving and in no sense "anti-semitic."  To those of us who saw
it, including the critics,  MV was revealed not as an anti-semitic play,
but as a play about anti-semitic people, an important distinction.

The production, directed by Jan Powell, the company's founding artistic
director, highlighted  each character in the play at his or her best and
worst, revealing the extremes of goodness and badness which co-exist in
all of us.  It was a play about "otherness" and our instinctive
reactions to people who do not share our customs and mores.

I.ii. was performed as a revelation of bigotry (to the self-conscious
amusement of the audience) as Portia (portrayed by Jacque Drew) regaled
Nerissa (Stephanie Norby) with her assessments of each of her foreign
suitors.  Even her domestic suitor she cast in a foreign pall: "I think
he bought his doublet in Italy, his round hose in France, his bonnet in
Germany, and his behavior every where." Her bigotry was even more
pointed at the end of II. vii. when, after the failure of Morocco to
select the appropriate casket, she blessed his departure with "Let all
of his complexion choose me so."

As has been discussed on this list before, Shylock has been portrayed in
productions as either a devil or a hero.  But in the THSC production he
(played by Keith Scales) was all of these.  We pitied his plight as the
goat of the anti-semitic society he was in, and we understood, yet
hated, his refusal to show mercy.  And, correspondingly, we adored
Portia's passionate plea for mercy, yet understood, but were appalled
by, her failure in the end to show mercy for Shylock.  There was
nobility even in this, though, for her failure was foretold by her in
I.ii.: "I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done, than to be
one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching."  The humility of
self-knowledge somehow breeds forgiveness.

To dismiss MV simply as a comedy with an anti-semitic message is to miss
completely the passionate humanity exemplified in each of the
characters.  The THSC production was laced with humor.  But our laughter
vented a deeper and transforming recognition of the difficulty we humans
have in simple acceptance.  I was reminded of the old Kingston Trio
song, one stanza of which went:

        "The whole world is festering with unhappy souls.
        The French hate the Germans the Germans hate the Poles;
        Italians hate Yugoslavs South Africans hate the Dutch;
        And I don't like anybody very much."

The examples given above barely scratch the surface of the teeming
bigotry and ethnocentricity in each of the characters.  The "otherness"
which was rampant throughout the production was framed by the clash of
cultures.  The value of "mercy" which is so prominently valued  in
Christian culture was offset against the value of "justice" which is
prized in the Jewish culture.  And in the musings of the three suitors,
each selecting a different casket, we could hear that each, in their own
way, had very sound, very solid, and very credible reasons for selecting
the caskets they did, all three arriving at their choices from their own
unique cultural orientations.  The suitor selection process established
by Portia's father assured that Portia's husband would have a cultural
heritage which favors sufficient self-abnegation to select a lead
casket.  But such choices also assure that these values are reinforced
within the society and that those of "others" are rejected. This is the
seed of bigotry and "ethnic cleansing."

As for the suggestion that the play not be performed, that would be a
tragic mistake, both artistically and financially; artistically because
I am confident that the vast majority of THSC patrons left the
production transformed, and without any sense that it promoted
anti-semitism.  A play which can spawn that kind of an experience should
be performed as often as possible; financially, because it is my
understanding that this production was the second highest grossing
production in the eight year history of the company.

This brings me to a conclusion which was born as a theory, blossomed
into an opinion and has ripened into a belief: the problem with MV, and
with many, if not most, of Shakespeare's plays, is not that it is a
"problem" play.  The problem is that it usually is just not done very
well.

David Maier

 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 

[6]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Hardy M. Cook <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Monday, September 14, 1998
Subject: 9.0834 Re: Globe Merchant
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0834 Re: Globe Merchant

I too saw both the Bankside Globe and the Stratford RSC productions of
Merchant as did John Mahon and Ken Rothwell.  In fact, I saw the same
performances that Ken did, but for the Globe production I was in the
yard and did, in fact, hear the distinct and decidedly disturbing
hissing of Shylock, especially noticeable before the trial scene.

I wanted to give more thought to the two productions before I offered my
options on them, but John's and Ken's comments prompt me to post a few
of my initial observations.

I did not care for the RSC version at Stratford. I was offended by the
treatment of Morocco (true in both productions). I disagreed with the
decision to have both Shylock and Jessica speak in Yiddish accents. I
did not care for the Method performance of the actor who played Shylock,
nor his presumably wrenching scream before the interval. This was meant
to be a tragic Shylock, but, on the whole, I found the production boring
and unimaginative.

Two factors influenced me before I saw the Bankside production. First, I
heard Charles Edelman present at the International Shakespeare
Conference a fine paper - "Which is the Jew that Shakespeare Knew?:
Shylock on the Elizabeth Stage" - which argues, apologies to Charles for
this woefully inadequate summary, that there simply is no evidence that
Jews during Shakespeare's times were considered the contemptuous
monsters that later commentators have attributed them as being during
that time. Second, before the Bankside Globe production, I took the
stage tour - principally to take lots of pictures of the interior. On
the tour, our guide pointed out that Sam Wanamaker has specifically
wanted Norbert Kentrup to play Shylock on this stage. These factors may
have predisposed me to what I thought I saw at the performance.

Although I was offended by the hissing at Shylock, I enjoyed the
Bankside production far more than I did the RSC version in Stratford. I
did not feel that Kentrup's Shylock appealed to stereotypical
prejudices; I found his Shylock retained his dignity despite the insults
the Christians heaped upon him. Probably, the main reason I preferred
the Bankside production to the RSC one was because at Bankside the play
was staged as a comedy. Shylock's contemptuous treatment by the
Christians was not lessened one jot, yet it was not necessary to have a
tragic Shylock, only one who was foiled so that the play could proceed
to its comic conclusion.

As I continue to reflect on these two very different productions, I am
not in the least sure what conclusions I might draw from these
ill-formed observations.  For now, I believe I saw at the New Globe a
comic MV with a Shylock who was neither demonized nor elevated to tragic
status, and for the most part the production worked for me.
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.