The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1963 Tuesday, 16 November 2004
From: David Basch <
Date: Monday, 15 Nov 2004 11:29:54 -0500
Subject: Jewish Shakespeare
No doubt, I am a little late in the September discussion asking for
reaction to Greenblatt's essay in NYTimes Magazine, but here is a brief
article that may interest you on the subject. Also, Stephen Greenblatt,
last night on C-Span also, seems to have left off a few details about
the poet and has some historical facts wrong. His mother's family tree
is not known, only guessed at, as historian Schoenbaum writes in his
compendium of the evidence concerning the poet.
The enclosed article below points in the right direction and indicates
where follow-up information on this subject may be found. Of course, I
would love to hear from you.
With best wishes,
A JEWISH SHAKESPEARE?
A BRIEF CASE
by David Basch
To those unacquainted with the evidence, few subjects will appear as
unpromising as a Jewish William Shakespeare. However, most curiously,
the finding of strictly Judaic elements in his plays reveals the Bard's
knowledge of Talmud, Midrash, and Aggadah, literatures all but
unavailable in the England of his time-Jews having long been expelled.
While skeptics may reject the diagnostic worth of even some Judaica in
the work of a medieval author who has demonstrated a prodigious catholic
reach, its presence, easily confirmed, poses a major challenge to
scholarship. Why has this content been little accounted in earlier
study? Where did Shakespeare gain access to this literature? Does it
appear in patterned ways, revelatory of its author? These are among the
questions assayed here.
The evidence is considerable, especially that which uses Talmudic
materials. Some of this is easily identified in Shakespearean lines,
such as "What's mine is yours and what is yours is mine," and "Sin will
pluck on sin," appearing respectively in Measure for Measure and Richard
III. While both instances are drawn from the Talmud's Pirke Avoth, their
simplicity is such to make them suspect. But, when it is learned that
the continuation of the talmudic line on "Sin plucks on sin," which runs
to "sechar mitzvah mitzvah" ("the reward of the deed is the deed") is to
be found in Coriolanus in praise of Marcius, a man described in the play
as one who "rewards his deeds with doing them," it becomes evident that
the Bard had rendered both parts of this Talmudic line. Note here, we
are actually given a "drash" (an interpretation) of this phrase and not
merely its translation by Shakespeare, because one meaning of the line
is that the deed of the "mitzvah" is its own reward.
And lest it be believed that Shakespeare restricted himself to Pirke
Avoth, of which there were some Latin translations, we find -- among
numerous other examples-one of Shakespeare's characters reciting for us
the five penalties called for by the Talmud to be paid for injuring
another person (King Priam in Troilus and Cressida). Also to be found in
one of his plays, when understood, is his version of the traditional
Purimshpiel (Purim play), in which all is "lehephech," opposite, a play
better known as The Merchant of Venice. A deeper understanding of the
play reveals all, including his own personal revelation.
Concerning some direct historic evidence, Shakespeare's father was left
a legacy recorded in a court document in which his father John was
identified as "Yohannem Shakere." The historian [Peter Levi] who brought
this news failed to recognize the implication that the name "Shakere"
has a Hebrew meaning suggesting a crypto-Jew. Thus, the word "shakere"
appears in the Hebrew of the Ninth Commandment where it means "false"-as
surely a Jew who witnessed falsely as a Christian must have been.
Have we here more circumstantial evidence ultimately signifying nothing?
Once again, the skeptic will find no sanctuary. For the evidence is that
Shakespeare knew its meaning and portent since he found ways to
interject his name as "Shakere" into some of his immortal plays in modes
revelatory and reminiscent of the practice of the authors of medieval
Then there is Shakespeare's 1596 Coat of Arms, the application for which
still exists, includes a tell-tale sketch of his coat of arms and his
motto. Not only does this confirm the Bard's attachment to what must be
called his family name, but reveals him in the symbolism as defining
himself as a son of the three patriarchs, Abraham Isaac, and Jacob, and
much, much more. The details of this and much more are to be found in
David Basch's web site and books on Shakespeare-information easily
accessed on the web through Google searches using the following key
words; David Basch; Shakespeare Codes; Jewish Shakespeare.
The trail of such Judaic signs, left as clues by the greatest of
communicators, has awaited probe by those who have retained possession
of the Jewish religious culture known to him- cultural Jews to whom he
must have addressed this covert material.
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook,
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>
DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the
opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the
editor assumes no responsibility for them.