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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: January ::
Re: Shylock Redux
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.096  Tuesday, 21 January 2003

[1]     From:   Ted Dykstra <
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        Date:   Monday, 20 Jan 2003 10:13:30 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.086 Re: Shylock Redux

[2]     From:   John W. Kennedy <
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        Date:   Monday, 20 Jan 2003 10:31:48 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.086 Re: Shylock Redux

[3]     From:   Geralyn Horton <
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        Date:   Monday, 20 Jan 2003 15:36:18 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.080 Shylock Re: Anyone Know Yiddish?

[4]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Monday, 20 Jan 2003 17:05:59 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.086 Re: Shylock Redux

[5]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Monday, 20 Jan 2003 17:21:26 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.082 Re: Shylock Redux


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ted Dykstra <
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Date:           Monday, 20 Jan 2003 10:13:30 EST
Subject: 14.086 Re: Shylock Redux
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.086 Re: Shylock Redux

Martin Steward writes:

>The reason a Jew is chosen to be the
>main character...

Surely the main character of a play does not disappear with almost an
hour of the story still to come? Shakespeare intended the main character
to be Portia, unfortunately. Therein lies the problem with the play. Who
wants to see the rest of it after whatever actor playing Shylock has
wiped the stage with everyone else?

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John W. Kennedy <
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Date:           Monday, 20 Jan 2003 10:31:48 -0500
Subject: 14.086 Re: Shylock Redux
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.086 Re: Shylock Redux

Max Gutmann <
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 > writes,

>A villain's ending is always happy to the hero. In what way, other than
>that, does Shylock's ending seem happy?

 From the viewpoint of Shakespeare's audience, he is baptized, and
consequently his soul is saved.  (A rather naive notion even from a
Christian viewpoint, but there it is....)

Carol Barton <
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 > writes,

>When the "evil" Shylock
>attempts to enforce what amounts to "an eye for an eye" (the Old
>Testament law of talion, via the Code of Hammurabi), the "Christians"
>among him recoil in horror: but do they show the "qualities of justice
>and mercy," or turn the other cheek, or leave vengeance (and judgment)
>to the Lord where the Jew is concerned?

Yes, as a matter of fact, they do.  They spare his life, and allow him
the continued use of half his fortune for his lifetime.  And, as I
remark above, they go the extra mile and assure that his soul is saved,
even thought it be against his will.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Geralyn Horton <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 20 Jan 2003 15:36:18 -0500
Subject: 14.080 Shylock Re: Anyone Know Yiddish?
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.080 Shylock Re: Anyone Know Yiddish?

H. R. Greenberg <
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 > writes,

>I believe it is ingenuous to compare the booing of Shylock -- which did
>not happen at the performance I saw at the Globe -- to the booing of
>the
>French in Henry V. I have never cared for the Shylock as helpless
>victim
>approach, but the alternative excess -- the -- I repeat -- egregious
>anti-Semitism of the New Globe version in a post-Holocaust climate was
>particularly unfortunate. I can't quote statistics because there aren't
>any, but most Jews -- include old noncombative socialist lefties like
>myself -- were greatly offended. HR Greenberg

Unless you mean "disingenuous" I certain what offense you are talking
about-- but I assume that what you are referring to would apply to my
remarks about the audience being led to take sides and then to feel
ashamed for having done so in the New Globe's trail scene.  If Shylock
was not booed at the performance you saw, what then is your evidence for
anti-Semitism?   Did the audience boo the virtuous Tubal?  Hiss at
Lorenzo's love for Jessica?  At the performance I saw Shylock was--
well, not booed exactly, but his crueler speeches were met with
exhalations of shocked disapproval, and there was a ripple of
approbation when his cruelty was met with a clever repost.  Indeed, I
thought it very like the booing of the French-- although I did not say
so in my post.  Both effects depend on an audience willing to be both
partisan and just, in turns, and will not happen with an audience
inclined to be passive or to be closed minded.

The H5 audience that I was in had an over-the-top French-booing minority
early on, and the rest of us looked at these fellows in shock.  That's
the thing about a Globe performance; the audience is a living part of
it, and there is always the danger that a determined minority will
insist that the play will mean what they want it to mean or mean nothing
at all.  But this time the booers took note that the rest of thought
that their response didn't seem to be in sync with what was being said
on stage-- sometimes one or another Frenchman's boasting is risible, in
the light of what we know will happen in the battle, but the H5 French
do have the excuse that they know Hal only from his playboy rep,  and
the H5 French are scarcely villains to a contemporary cosmopolitan
audience accustomed to disapprove of overseas invasions-- especially
invasions launched for the sort of niggling reasons put forth by the
good guys here.  The booing eventually was replaced by a more evenly
divided sympathy, which I think most will agree the text supports, and a
moving performance that honored courage, intelligence, loyalty, and
generosity, while acknowledging the elements of realpolitick and luck.

The Globe makes the communal element of theatre overt.   You can't hide
in the dark, nursing your personal interpretation and imagining either
that everyone feels as you do or conversely that only you and
Shakespeare really understand what the play intends. You can feel the
emotional roller coaster, in your own body before your mind catches up
and mirrored or rejected in the faces of spectators around you as well
as in the on stage reactors.  If you snigger at a nasty joke, and then a
character whom you like and with whom you have identified looks hurt or
offended,  you are suddenly ashamed-- you can see shame blushing all
over the theater, beginning with the most sensitive and spreading until
nearly everyone "gets it".   This is really why we go to theatre, isn't
it?  Not to approve the level of craft on display, but to learn about
our singular/common human nature-- the nature we share with Elizabethan
yeomen and with French nobility and money lending Jews and luggage boys
and bawds-- and with the odd assortment of scholars and tourists and
schoolchildren that make up the Global audience.  Probably we share most
elements of it with our mammalian cousins, too.

The Shylock of the New Globe was not a demonic Other, though the
Venetians certainly treated him as that from time to time, to their
shame.   But besides being the best actor on the stage-- one of the best
actors I've ever seen anywhere, and therefore the natural recipient of
sympathy whenever he appeals for it-- Shylock was directed to tempt us
to complicity-- and we frequently were complicit.  Shylock is one of Us:
we resent injustice and long for revenge, just as he does.  We identify
with our kin and tribe, and will them to prevail.  When Shylock scores a
good point we cheer!  But we also see that Shylock's nourishment of his
spite is destroying his own life, and confirming his enemies' prejudices
in a way that may harm his tribe as well as threaten the community at
large.  We can not wish him to win.  His own mother, his loving Creator,
would not wish him to carve out that pound of flesh.   It will be far
easier for him to cleanse his soul of the desire than of the deed.

Geralyn Horton

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playwright, actor, critic
Newton, MA
http://www.stagepage.info

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 20 Jan 2003 17:05:59 -0500
Subject: 14.086 Re: Shylock Redux
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.086 Re: Shylock Redux

>>Notwithstanding, he took the time to flesh out that villainous Jew as a
>>human being with feelings, and even provided him with what seemed like a
>>happy ending.
>
>A villain's ending is always happy to the hero. In what way, other than
>that, does Shylock's ending seem happy?

To Christians adhering to traditional Christian dogma, Shylock's
conversion gives him at least the possibility of salvation.

The forced conversion seems to me a necessary tonic resolution to
eliminate a foreign irritant and restore harmony.  The fact that most of
us do not see it that way today, does not mean that it wasn't perceived
that way in 1596.

>When the "evil" Shylock attempts to enforce what amounts to "an eye for an
>eye" (the Old
>Testament law of talion, via the Code of Hammurabi), the "Christians"
>among him recoil in horror: but do they show the "qualities of justice
>and mercy," or turn the other cheek, or leave vengeance (and judgment)
>to the Lord where the Jew is concerned?

The death penalty as retribution for a defaulted debt of 3000 ducats is
not consonant with the lex talionis, which prescribes proportionate
responses.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 20 Jan 2003 17:21:26 -0500
Subject: 14.082 Re: Shylock Redux
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.082 Re: Shylock Redux

Sean Lawrence suggested that "Shylock is the closest metaphor for a Nazi
that the play presents."  I agree.

That notion also fits nicely into a conceit I have harbored for a while
that the "Hath not a Jew eyes" speech originally had a comic purpose.
Consider:

World War II movies set in occupied Europe frequently had as a stock
semi-comic character a bumbling German officer who, among other
failings, is unable to comprehend why he is held in low esteem by the
locals whom he governs.  The character is frequently given a scene in
which he expresses this bewilderment, noting that he is a good father,
kind to his dog, appreciative of beauty, good food, wine and music,
etc.  Why then do others find him so repellent?  He can't understand it.
The joke, of course, which the audience knows but which escapes the
character because of the very failings for which he is condemned, is
that his very Nazi-ness destroys any possibility of sympathy.

Shylock's "Hath not a Jew eyes" speech says nothing more than that he is
human.  Antonio and the rest never questioned his humanity, only his
humaneness. Shylock does not address that point.

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