The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1964 Tuesday, 24 October 2000.
Date: Tuesday, October 24, 2000
Subject: Re: Holinshed Anecdote and Hebrew Transcribed
I address you now as moderator of SHAKSPER, a role I assume infrequently
and often reluctantly.
Last week, Florence Amit entered into the discussion that had begun with
a reference to reported war atrocities in Holinshed and continued to
express her theories about Shakespeare's knowledge of Hebrew. Ms. Amit
was greeted with a number of challenges to her ideas, all finding her
arguments and conclusions unconvincing.
One of those responding was John Drakakis:
Date: Friday, 20 Oct 2000 16:52:19 +0100
Subject: 11.1955 Re: Holinshed Anecdote
Comment: RE: SHK 11.1955 Re: Holinshed Anecdote
To Florence Amit:
I make no apology for sarcasm. My concern is with an issue and since
you raised it I'm responding to you.
You will not be surprised, I am sure, that I find your reading of this
play unconvincing. It is very difficult to determine precisely how you
make the connections that you claim between Shylock's 'state of mind' at
the end of 4.1 and the textual evidence itself.
In the earlier debate in which you seemed to be claiming that Shylock
was a 'real' Jew I remained silent. I did so because I think your claim
is fanciful. Of course you are entitled to think what you like, but
unless we are to use this list to project our own egos, I'd like to
suggest to you that we think a little about the protocols for
establishing the 'evidence' that you adduce for your reading of The
Merchant of Venice.
Whatever 'real' Jews may have done with the Inquisition, I suggest that
we need to be very careful before projecting that information onto a
dramatic character. There are no suggestions in the play that Shylock
is about to die, any more than there are suggestions that Antonio's
disclosure of his 'sickness' at the beginning of the play is mortal.
Moreover, where in the play is there evidence to suggest that Shylock
wants to 'hurry' the proceedings because if his imminent death?
You may erect whatever edifice you want on the words of the play but you
will need to at least make us party to the protocols that you are using
to elicit your own 'symptomatic' reading. Your gloss on Jessica's name
may be right, but if so then we need to look (a) at how she secures her
dowry and (b) the effect of the court judgement on her 'father'.
On the relationship between Antonio and Shylock, I'm not sure that I
share Stephen Greenblatt's view that beneath the difference between them
there is a deep similarity, but there is an uncanny doubling that
requires to be investigated from within the quasi-religious discourse of
In short, I am saying that if I were to start out for Roscommon in
relation to this play I would not start out from your position. We can
either have, what I think you would call a Mexican stand-off on this or
we can debate it. What I will not tolerate is your attempt to confuse a
scholarly issue with your own personal involvement with the question. To
be even more blunt I couldn't care less whether you do or do not like
sarcasm. I make the assumption that we are dealing with differences of
reading a particular (and frequently problematical) Shakespearean text
and I firmly resist your implied invitation to see beyond your
contribution into areas of your private life which are none of my, or
indeed, this List's concern.
Three others responded in like manner. I do not see much reason to
include them, but I will forward them to anyone who requests them.
Florence Amit informed me that she had decided to resign from SHAKSPER,
and she sent the following post to the list:
Date: Monday, 23 Oct 2000 16:18:14 -0700
Subject: Transcribing Hebrew
Because of this subject I am being hounded out of the forum and indeed I
am going. This posting is my farewell. What ever my faults, masochism is
not one of them. So a particular guardian of purity armed with computer
access - not a textual scholar - and his friend who has a PhD for
Hebrew, may rest assured that their heavy hands have beaten down the
threatening scourge. Not withstanding, a few generalities about
transcription should be made. There are certain sounds and stress
patterns that occur in one language that are not present in another so
that compromises or conventions are reached in transcription. (I am
sure that simultaneous translators approach this differently than those
who write texts.) They may not be preferred but they are found to be
necessary. For example one sees in the English Bible that the compromise
over the name of Isaiah could have been closer to the Hebrew if written:
Ish/iahu and Jesse - Ish/ai. The impossible for English, of the guttural
in Shauel has resulted in the convention of Saul. These changes often
distance the reader from the names' original meanings, which were
probably their outstanding feature when placed. Therefore new
translators or a playwright wanting Hebrew to define his characters
might be tempted to return to the original components of names and
naming in order to enjoy the resonance of those connotations. Another
feature is that since vowels are not printed in Hebrew and even the
substitute dots are sometimes left out, the consonant root of a word,
three letters, shows the word to be there in potential and suggests
possible meanings in relation to other elements. There are typical
prefixes and suffixes that may or may not be attached - pronouns,
article and prepositions that signify the presence of Hebrew. All these
allow for a great deal of flexibility, a condensed language, and a
removal of the vowel from its place of consequentiality for spelling.
Alternatives for certain letters give even more flexibility. (On roads
signs in Israel translated into English, one sees how this flexibility
can be carried too far.) These factors are found to be inescapable
realities that must be dealt with artistically. How well Shakespeare
succeeded is for Hebrew speakers to discover. I do not think a Ph D
degree plus vanity are preferred qualifications. The task of organizing
an inquiry into the typical ways that Shakespeare wrote Hebrew with
English characters is being undertaken by a qualified Hebrew linguist,
right now. I shall inform the forum when it is complete. Certainly
Shakespeare's conventions are not 'my' invention, nor are they my excuse
for making spurious claims. One checks oneself again and again and I
have not been shy to ask for participation. So I do not apologize for
being observant, as was demanded of me. From my point of view a lot less
Hebrew would have made my task of 'TMOV' interpretation a whole lot
I am sorry to leave you. It has been stimulating. Beware of the guardian
in your midst.
With this message, I have decided to call an end to this discussion.
Florence Amit further informs me that she is working on a web page that
will detail her theories. The page is now under construction but can be
found at http://www.tmov-caskets.com/ for anyone who is interested.