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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: December ::
Jewish Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.2068  Wednesday, 8 December 2004

[1]     From:   Marcus Dahl <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 7 Dec 2004 12:44:43 -0000
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.2063 Jewish Shakespeare

[2]     From:   Jack Heller <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 7 Dec 2004 07:49:38 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.2063 Jewish Shakespeare

[3]     From:   Hugh Grady <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 7 Dec 2004 10:16:24 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.2063 Jewish Shakespeare

[4]     From:   Philip Weller <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 07 Dec 2004 12:00:22 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.2063 Jewish Shakespeare

[5]     From:   John W. Kennedy <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 07 Dec 2004 15:55:35 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.2063 Jewish Shakespeare

[6]     From:   David Basch <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 07 Dec 2004 22:02:35 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.2063 Jewish Shakespeare

[7]     From:   Alan Pierpoint <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 8 Dec 2004 05:24:25 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.2063 Jewish Shakespeare


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marcus Dahl <
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Date:           Tuesday, 7 Dec 2004 12:44:43 -0000
Subject: 15.2063 Jewish Shakespeare
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.2063 Jewish Shakespeare

Dear All,

What would this list do without Don Bloom? A voice of reason in an all
too self-reflexive age. Too many Calibans in too many mirrors.

And what a shame that more of us do not read Northrop Frye.

Anatomy of Criticism anyone?

All the best and thanks to D. Bloom,
Marcus

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jack Heller <
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Date:           Tuesday, 7 Dec 2004 07:49:38 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 15.2063 Jewish Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.2063 Jewish Shakespeare

Perhaps the discomfort with The Merchant of Venice is a desire to have a
Shakespeare who could do nothing morally/ethically wrong. But I think
rather than trying to justify The Merchant of Venice, a more productive
effort would be to try to understand the play as one in a number of
considerations of ethnic differences in the plays. Is Othello racist?
Caliban? Let's bring these characters into the discussion.

Heller

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Hugh Grady <
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Date:           Tuesday, 7 Dec 2004 10:16:24 -0500
Subject: 15.2063 Jewish Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.2063 Jewish Shakespeare

In re: "Merchant of Venice"

There has been so much argument and counter-argument, I wonder if there
would be agreement on the following two propositions:

1. The play contains dialogue that is (or should be) highly anti-Semitic
to us, and this attests to attitudes towards Jews at the time of the
play's composition that are, or should be, anti-Semitic to us.

2. The play also contains a counter-discourse in which Jews are seen as
sharing in humanity, and these two attitudes have a dialogic relation to
each other in the play.

3. In many ways, the anti-Semitic discourse shows signs of constructing
Jews as a displacement for the effects of usury, commodity culture,
capitalism.

--Hugh Grady

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Philip Weller <
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Date:           Tuesday, 07 Dec 2004 12:00:22 -0800
Subject: 15.2063 Jewish Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.2063 Jewish Shakespeare

Ruth Ross <
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 >I think I'll pass on The Merchant of Venice for my classroom.

Why?  The response to Ms. Ross' post shows that the play gives us plenty
to think about, and that's got to be good for students, high school or
otherwise.

-- Sincerely, Philip Weller Shakespeare Navigators
http://www.clicknotes.com

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John W. Kennedy <
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Date:           Tuesday, 07 Dec 2004 15:55:35 -0500
Subject: 15.2063 Jewish Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.2063 Jewish Shakespeare

Ruth Ross <
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 >taught that Jews were Christ-killers who committed Blood Libel

I've heard of "Jewish self-hatred", but that's really going too far.

 >Too, I have always been confounded over the appellation of this play as
 >a comedy. It surely doesn't measure up to Much Ado or Twelfth Night.
 >While the Christians are as distasteful as Shylock,

Because they fail to live up to contemporary notions of Political
Correctness?

 > Who would permit a young girl who has
 >led a sheltered life to appear in court and argue a case?

What?! Are you sure you've read the play?

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Basch <
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Date:           Tuesday, 07 Dec 2004 22:02:35 -0500
Subject: 15.2063 Jewish Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.2063 Jewish Shakespeare

RE: Larry Weiss's critique of "Shylock on Appeal"

Larry Weiss's detailed critique of "Shylock on Appeal" deserves an
equally detailed critique. In doing so, I would note that the article is
a shortened version of a much larger account in my book, THE HIDDEN
SHAKESPEARE. I will now try to fill in the relevant parts and context so
that the matter can be clarified.  I appreciate Larry's comment since it
gives me chance to further elaborate the issue.

I will present Weiss's comment to be followed by my own:

  >>a man, driven to distraction by his young daughter
  >>who has robbed him and has run away with someone
  >>from another religion,
  >
  >Which is the greater sin?  Is a Christian woman who marries
  >a Jew and converts just as culpable?

The comment is beside the point. To Shylock this is a terrible thing
since it means he and his ways have been thoroughly rejected by his
daughter. If you have any sense of empathy, you might be able to sense
his anguish, which would be just as bad to a Christian were his daughter
married to a Jew.

  >"I hate him for he is a Christian"  "If once I can catch him
  >on the hip I would feed fat the grudge I bear him."
  >
  >Benign, engaging and peaceful, no?

Weiss quotes Shylock's comment from the text about hating him because he
is a Christian, which I don't mention in the article but feature it in
the longer account in my book. Were you to read the book you would learn
the evidence that Antonio, the Merchant, is himself an apostate Jew.
Shylock in talking to him mentions numerous times expressions, such as
"OUR father Abram," "Suffrence is the badge of all OUR tribe," and
compares Antonio to a "publican"-"How like a publican he
looks"-publicans were Jews in service to the Romans. Shylock also notes
that Antonio "lends for a Christian courtsy." Nothing wrong with that if
you are a Christian but not so nice if you are a Jew lending for free to
people who persecute you.

When it is recognizes that Antonio is a former Jew, the line becomes
transformed within the new context. It means now that "I hate him for he
is a Jew that has become a Christian." But note that Shylock then thinks
better of it and tries to win his love by giving him a free loan. In
fact, Jewish Talmudic law requires a Jew be given a free loan even if he
has converted.

    >>Shylock was ... seeking an understandable but extreme,
    >>bloody vengeance
    >
    >As understandable, perhaps, as the behaviour of the Al Aksa
    >Martyrs Brigade.

Weiss here takes the line out of context. I wrote, "If Shylock was
seeking an understandable but extreme, bloody vengeance ..." Here I was
referring to what the expectation of the audience is.  In fact, it is
believable in the play to audiences only because the audience regards
Shylock as a Jew and thinks that Jews are so bad that they would indulge
in such behavior.

   >>meant only to throw a scare into the merchant, to humble him,
   >>so that the merchant would beg for forgiveness in public from
   >>the Jew he had wronged -- an interpretation amply supported
   >>by Shakespeare's text.
   >
   >Supported, for example, by Shylock's withdrawal of his demand for
   >"justice" just before Portia pointed out the lapsus in the bond.
   >Wait a minute, I can't find that passage in my text.

Here Weiss protests too much since he reads things into the action just
as I do. I read the situation that Shylock is trying to really throw a
scare into the merchant, wanting to see him crack. Before Shylock can
put into effect the final touches of his scare campaign, Portia
interrupts, leaving Shylock high and dry. I give some background as to
why I would think this is what is happening, especially the telling line
put by Gratiano, "Can no mercy pierce your heart?" and Shylock's answer,
"None that YOU have wit enough to make." The implication is that Shylock
awaits Antonio's plea for mercy.

   >>However, no such mercy pierces the merchant's heart or that
   >>of his friends in the play.
   >
   >His life and all his property was forfeit; yet he was allowed
   >to live and enjoy half his estate for life (conditioned only
   >on the totally unreasonable condition that he make his daughter
   >[via her husband] his heir). In the minds of the audience,
   >he was also granted the mercy of salvation

Here Weiss misunderstands the terms. Shylock loses all his wealth.  Half
goes to Antonio and half to the state. Antonio is allowed to keep his
half and to treat the state's half as a fine. On this, Antonio's "mercy"
leads him to take his half outright and the other half, the state's
half, to also use and then deed that over after Shylock's death to "the
gentleman that lately stole his daughter." Shylock was stripped of all
his money.  (Read the part of the play on this which I include at the
end of this piece.)

And then Shylock was ordered to convert on pain of death.

When you consider that he only wanted to scare the merchant, he has paid
dearly for the charade he tried to play out and was mercilessly treated,
stripped of his wealth and his religion by what amounts to a kangaroo
court, with the judge a biased, interested party. Shylock leaves the
stage a broken man.

I have noted in my book the Talmud's advice in Pirke Avoth "not to say
things that should not be said because you think that it will eventually
become understood properly"- advice which Shylock ignored.

   >>if a man is on
   >>trial and two divergent interpretations can be equally placed
   >>on his actions, should not simple justice demand that the more
   >>benign of the two be accepted?
   >
   >Not if the benign one is farfetched and contradicted by the
   >evidence. I suppose the police could have planted the blood
   >in OJ's van. The world is either flat or round; so, since the
   >Bible refers to the "four corners" of the earth we should
   >conclude that it is flat.

If you believe that a banker would cut up a person to be paid a debt,
then you believe in the outlandish. It is only believable in the play
because the banker happens to be a Jew. There are many other elements in
the play that signal the moral flaws in the characters of Shylock's
enemies. The Christians rob Shylock, kidnap his underage daughter.
Jessica bears false witness upon her father accusing him of saying
things that she could not have been there to witness since she was then
away with Lorenzo.  later, both Bassanio and Gratiano break their vows
to hold forever their rings as does Portia break her vow to her father
to abide by her father's covenant, signaled by Shakespeare's line
"Portia's counterfeit."

   >>Portia reveals her duplicity by also betraying her vow to her
   >>father. She does so by having her maid, Nerissa, convey the
   >>secret to Bassanio
   >
   >For some reason, my copy omits this passage.  I do believe that the
   >song preceding Bassanio's choice provides a clue (perhaps
   >subliminally), but this interpretation is far from universal or
   >inevitable.  What happened to the presumption in favor of benign
   >interpretations?

If you read carefully, you will see the scam, with much evidence to
confirm it. Nerissa says when she delivers Shylock's will that she will
not ask a "fee" for this service-she got a fee for her other sevice. Her
name, Nerissa, as it sounds in Hebrew "nir'a'ssah", means "it was seen."
  What did she see? She saw the solution to the riddle. You learn from
the text that Nerissa and Gratiano met in an earlier event when Bassanio
and were on a trip to Belmont.  And note how the two, Nerissa and
Gratiano, jump up after the selection to tell that their betrothal
depended on Portia's.

Anyway, there are many signals of what happened, but signals that cannot
be seen as long as you regard Shylock to be a monster and the others to
be paragons of virtue. The play is all opposite.  The "bad" guy is the
good (and wronged) guy and the "good guys" are deeply flawed and unmerciful.

Without spinning out my whole book I cannot give all the evidence that I
brought for my view. But it is there for all to see.

   >Fess up Mr. Basch, you are Florence Amit pseudonymously.

I learned of Florence Amit after I wrote my book. She called my
attention to the many Hebrew elements in the play, including the fact
that, in the Hebrew, PRT (PoRTia) is contained in the Hebrew word for
lead, OPRT (OPheReT) -- the Hebrew P is the same letter as the F-which
means that when Portia tells Bassanio, "I am locked in one of these" she
is telling him the secret of the caskets, that it is the lead one since
PRT is contained in OPRT. Naturally this is a hidden message not meant
for the ordinary audience to grasp. But it is one of the many, many
signposts that give the key to understanding the intent of the play and
the cues of what to look for in unraveling it.

Larry Weiss can stand pat with his view and can refuse to look a little
deeper into the play, as has been done ever since the play was written.
But for those who want to know the mind of the great poet-not their own
minds, which are light years beneath the poet's level-they will seek the
richness conveyed by the play, among which richness is that of the
message of brotherhood, besides much else.

David Basch (12.7.04)

========================================
DUKE    That thou shalt see the difference of our spirits,
         I pardon thee thy life before thou ask it:
         For half thy wealth, it is Antonio's;
         The other half comes to the general state,
         Which humbleness may drive unto a fine.

PORTIA  Ay, for the state, not for Antonio.

SHYLOCK Nay, take my life and all; pardon not that:
         You take my house when you do take the prop
         That doth sustain my house; you take my life
         When you do take the means whereby I live.

PORTIA  What mercy can you render him, Antonio?

GRATIANO   A halter gratis; nothing else, for God's sake.

ANTONIO So please my lord the duke and all the court
         To quit the fine for one half of his goods,
         I am content; so he will let me have
         The other half in use, to render it,
         Upon his death, unto the gentleman
         That lately stole his daughter:
         Two things provided more, that, for this favour,
         He presently become a Christian;
         The other, that he do record a gift,
         Here in the court, of all he dies possess'd,
         Unto his son Lorenzo and his daughter.

DUKE    He shall do this, or else I do recant
         The pardon that I late pronounced here.

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Alan Pierpoint <
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Date:           Wednesday, 8 Dec 2004 05:24:25 EST
Subject: 15.2063 Jewish Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.2063 Jewish Shakespeare

To Ruth Ross--You teach a course on Literature of Holocaust and
Genocide--in High School?  Wow.  I'm impressed.  Your students can't
know how lucky they are, although I hope you'll share this thread with
them.  What better preparation for the feeding frenzy that casual
statements on controversial statements may provoke, once they get to
college.  But--does Don John really get off "scot free"?  Benedick's
threat of "brave punishments" at the end of Act V hints darkly of
torture.  A minor point.  Don't let the college of wit-crackers flout
you out of teaching MoV.  It's not
my favorite play either, so I don't teach it, but I guess "favorite"
isn't the issue in that particular course.  Yours in admiration,   Alan
Pierpoint / Southwestern Academy

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