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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: September ::
Shakespeare's Leap
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1760  Monday, 27 September 2004

[1]     From:   John W. Kennedy <
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        Date:   Friday, 17 Sep 2004 10:55:29 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1741 Shakespeare's Leap

[2]     From:   Melvyn R. Leventhal <
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        Date:   Friday, 17 Sep 2004 11:02:35 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1741 Shakespeare's Leap


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John W. Kennedy <
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Date:           Friday, 17 Sep 2004 10:55:29 -0400
Subject: 15.1741 Shakespeare's Leap
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1741 Shakespeare's Leap

Colin Cox <
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 >

 >>"Did the creator of
 >>''The Merchant of Venice'' and its moneylender, Shylock, ever meet a
 >>Jew?

 >I have no doubt that Shakespeare knew Dr. Lopez, the queen's physician.
 >He is the Jew that was the inspiration for Merchant.

There is no evidence whatever that the two ever met; neither is it
particularly probable; neither is there any evidence that Dr. Lopez was
any sort of "inspiration", beyond the obvious fact that his execution
probably played a part in Shakespeare's decision to write a play with a
Jewish villain.

 >As for Merchant, Shakespeare encourages readers/viewers to find Shylock
 >deeply human and deeply victimized and then pretty much drops the topic
 >by the end of the play. (For a contrasting example, there's Malvolio,
 >whose exit line won't let anyone forget him.) Is The Jew of Malta really
 >so much more "corrosive" than Merchant? At least, since there aren't any
 >fully realized characters in the Marlowe play, it doesn't tempt the
 >audience to witness a convincing representation of pain and then ignore
 >it. Talk about corrosive.

Shylock has a pretty little speech, but he is guilty of attempted murder
and is let off lightly by any standards, and very lightly by the
standards of Venetian law (as Shakespeare supposes it to be).

(As chance would have it, this weekend I'm playing Isaac of York in an
outdoor-theatre adaptation of "Ivanhoe", so I'm not feeling particularly
sympathetic toward Shylock just now.)

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Melvyn R. Leventhal <
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 >
Date:           Friday, 17 Sep 2004 11:02:35 EDT
Subject: 15.1741 Shakespeare's Leap
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1741 Shakespeare's Leap

The Greenblatt article prompted me to write this letter to the editor of
the New York Times Magazine section:

Stephen Greenblatt [Shakespeare's Leap, September 12, 2004] acknowledges
that the trial scene in Merchant of Venice, during which Shylock is
humiliated and forced to convert to Christianity, is both anti-Semitic
and very much a part of the comedy. Nevertheless, like all bardolators,
he must find a silver lining: he states that Shakespeare was "clearly
not altogether comfortable with this laughter."

There is no reason to believe that Shakespeare and his Elizabethan
audiences experienced any such discomfort. Immediately prior to
Shylock's "Hath not a Jew eyes?" speech, and at other points in the
play, Christians describe Shylock as the devil incarnate and in
disguise: "here he [the devil] comes in the likeness of a Jew." Thus
Shylock's plea that he be recognized as a human being was perceived as
nothing more than the crafty outburst of a despised comic villain.
Without question, his plea was answered by unqualified laughter and
banter by Shakespeare's audiences.

It is idle to project twenty-first century sensibilities onto late
sixteenth century theatergoers. Shakespeare, part owner of his theatre
company and looking for SRO productions, pandered to the anti-Semitism
of his age. Although I can't imagine my life without him, and view The
Bard as a lifelong friend, he was neither flawless nor divine.

Melvyn R. Leventhal

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