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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: January ::
Re: Anyone Know Yiddish?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.047  Thursday, 9 January 2003

[1]     From:   Joachim Martillo <
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        Date:   Wed, 8 Jan 2003 09:30:46 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.033 Re: Anyone Know Yiddish?

[2]     From:   H. R. Greenberg <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 8 Jan 2003 11:49:02 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.042 Re: Anyone Know Yiddish?

[3]     From:   Bob Rosen <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 8 Jan 2003 12:54:06 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.042 Re: Anyone Know Yiddish?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Joachim Martillo <
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Date:           Wed, 8 Jan 2003 09:30:46 EST
Subject: 14.033 Re: Anyone Know Yiddish?
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.033 Re: Anyone Know Yiddish?

Max Gutmann <
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 > writes,

>>Obviously, whoever adapted the play would have cast Shylock in a
>>favorable light -- compatible to the expectations of a Jewish audience.

>Such adaptations may have been done, but there's nothing obvious about a
>Jewish audience wanting to like Shylock. Modern viewers/readers who find
>the play anti-Semitic don't object to the unfavorable depiction of
>Shylock, but of his Jewishness. Any intelligent audience sees good
>reasons not to like Shylock; an adaptation for a Jewish audience
>probably wouldn't make his religion one of them.

What exactly do Jewish audiences perceive as the Jewishness of Shylock?
The sum total of his Jewishness to me seems to be the dislike that
Christians show toward him (more as a loan shark than as a practicing
Jew).  I view him as a stand-in for the rising (often unscrupulous)
merchant class of the Elizabethan period.

Obviously, as Shakespeare's backers often came from this class,
Shakespeare had to suggest the increasing dominance of contract and
legalism over aristocratic pretensions of honor and manliness in a way
that would not offend.  Making Shylock Jewish seems to have served
Shakespeare's requirements more than adequately while it maintained some
links with earlier versions of the story.  Shakespeare's message is
actually quite nuanced, for Shylock is defeated not by testosterone and
violence, but by narrow construction of the contract.

Joachim Martillo

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           H. R. Greenberg <
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 >
Date:           Wednesday, 8 Jan 2003 11:49:02 EST
Subject: 14.042 Re: Anyone Know Yiddish?
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.042 Re: Anyone Know Yiddish?

There have been interpretations of Shylock which cast the character in
an heroic light on the Yiddish stage. Although I never saw one, I do
understand that Morris Carnof(v)sky "starred" in and quite possibly
masterminded this take on Merchant of Venice and Shylock, but I am
possibly wrong about the actor. He did Lear both in Yiddish and then
later on Broadway as I recall (hence the previously quoted joke about
the cab driver to Carnovsky-"Nu, how do you think this will play
uptown?"

There have been productions -- not many in my life time -- which have
turned Shylock -- mutatis mutandis -- into a Sturmer stereotype. I saw
one several years ago at the Globe, odiously antisemitic  beyond belief,
they could have been selling the Protocols in the lobby. But I do
remember thinking to myself, with all the political correctness
abounding, why, here is the very thing itself, right out in the open.

An additional irony, with this vile stuff onstage, and there is the full
length portrait of the blacklisted American actor who emigrated to
England and became very successful there, and played a major force in
putting the Globe back on this earth, and has a wonderfully talented
daughter, herself a fine interpreter of Shakespeare, ???? Sam .........
(memory fails unfortunately).

Best. HR Greenberg MD ENDIT

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bob Rosen <
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 >
Date:           Wednesday, 8 Jan 2003 12:54:06 EST
Subject: 14.042 Re: Anyone Know Yiddish?
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.042 Re: Anyone Know Yiddish?

>Any intelligent audience sees good
> reasons not to like Shylock; an adaptation for a Jewish audience
> probably wouldn't make his religion one of them.

Max,

A Jewish director and actor, such as Maurice Schwartz, probably would
understand Judaism and call attention to its contradictions in the
Merchant.  The Merchant isn't Shylock. Shylock wants dignity, not money.
He has been insulted. Shakespeare didn't know a damn about Judaism. But,
like all great writers, Shylock got away from him. He had to give
Shylock his own rationale -- to the extent he could free himself of his
illusions. Shakespeare had to use tricks to defeat Shylock. He had to
create laws that never existed. A prosecutor who wasn't an attorney. A
plaintiff who was a wastrel and a gambler. It is not difficult for a
first rate director and actor to find nobility in Shylock that makes his
tormentors look like degenerate children.  Which they are. There was a
reason the Nazis didn't permit The Merchant to be produced in Germany.
Shylock is human.

The other characters are cardboard cutouts, including Shylock's daughter
who sells out her father and is as Jewish as the Pope.

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