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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: December ::
Jewish Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.2123  Thursday, 16 December 2004

[Editor's Note: I would appreciate it if contributors to this thread
would make an effort to bring it to a conclusion soon.]

[1]     From:   Abigail Quart <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 15 Dec 2004 09:34:31 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.2116 Jewish Shakespeare

[2]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 15 Dec 2004 12:24:07 -0500
        Subj:   Jewish Shakespeare


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Abigail Quart <
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 >
Date:           Wednesday, 15 Dec 2004 09:34:31 -0500
Subject: 15.2116 Jewish Shakespeare
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.2116 Jewish Shakespeare

David Basch's interpretation is the one I see when I read the script.
The Christians in the play mouth virtue but practice none. And Portia
is, indeed, a pig.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Wednesday, 15 Dec 2004 12:24:07 -0500
Subject:        Jewish Shakespeare

David Basch writes:

"To make clear what is happening in the play, consider a father playing
with his small child and adopting a tone of mock anger to teach the
child a lesson. Others observing this father at play would detect his
wink of the eye and the flatness of his mock anger. But the child would
take what he confronts seriously. It is this paradigm that must explain
Shakespeare's play, a Shylock indulging in a charade of monstrous anger
in order to humble the self-righteous merchant, Antonio, and get him to
plead for mercy from the Jew he despises."

What is the evidence from the play that indicates that Shylock sees or
treats Antonio like a son? At the most generic level, Shylock seems to
feel that because his is the older religion, he has something to teach
the Christians in general and Antonio in particular, as he tries to do
(rather unsuccessfully) by referring to the story in Genesis about
Jacob's sheep. But except for that, it's clear to me that Shylock is
more than a bit like Dirty Harry: he's had enough, by God! He won't take
it any more, and he grabs the chance for revenge against Antonio.

Basch also writes:

"Consider for a moment who Shylock is. He is depicted in Shakespeare's
play as a financially prudent and even a generous man with a hatred of
hypocrisy and oppression. In fact, he resembles nothing more than what
we would recognize today as a respectable accountant or banker. And how
many persons do we know that have ever been mugged by an accountant or a
banker?"

With the exception of the word "generous," I agree with this sentiment,
but it is misplaced. Most accountants or bankers are treated well by
society, but not Shylock!

That's what's eating him. That, and the fact that a whole religion of
people like him have been similarly mistreated for over a thousand
years. He's driven by intense anger and the need to get back at least
one of his and his religion's oppressors.

There are two aspects of *M of V* that seem to me essential. First, as
he often does, Shakespeare lets the audience interpret the play "as they
like it." That is, the audience can choose not to notice (or care about)
the historic oppression of Jews and Antonio's treatment of Shylock. If
you are bigoted enough - and many surely were - then these facts either
don't matter or you approve of them. On the other hand, the audience can
choose to enter imaginatively into Shylock's mind and see why he is
doing what he is doing. The choice is up to each playgoer.

Second, Shakespeare is very daring in that he does NOT sentimentalize
Shylock at all.

When people are systematically subject to oppression, they either
withdraw into the shadows or they get so angry that they strike out.
Shylock is the latter type. He IS a revenger; that's all there is to it.
Either we see why or we don't.

It's fair to say that most in the original audience didn't see why or
didn't care because their own religion countenanced what Antonio and
Portia do to Shylock. Today, we see why with a vengeance - as well we
should.

As to Shakespeare's own point of view towards Jews, who knows? I'll just
point out that Shakespeare's father was a money lender who sometimes
charged TWICE the "usual" rate - about 10% back in those days.

Ed Taft

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