The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0306 Tuesday, 15 February 2005
From: David Basch <
Date: Monday, 14 Feb 2005 20:39:26 -0500
Subject: 16.0297 Greenblatt Discussion Forum
Comment: Re: SHK 16.0297 Greenblatt Discussion Forum
John-Paul Spiro queries:
I'd also like to know why Richard III or King Priam would
quote the Talmud. Were THEY secretly Jewish?
What is significant about such quoted material is that it is there in
the first place, not that a particular character quotes it.
The plain fact is that there are quoted Talmudic materials in the words
of Shakespeare's texts. Of this there can be no doubt. The more familiar
one is with such material in the original, the more one is impressed by
its unarguable presence.
In the plays, this material stands on its own as maxims, except where
its Judaic references shed further light on the action of the play and
the concepts behind it.
The material serves still another purpose in communicating to persons
knowledgeable of such material that Shakespeare too is familiar with
this. As I have noted before, Joseph in the Bible sets the pattern for
this kind of communication when he has his brothers seated at the table
in Egypt in accordance with their ages. The brothers are astonished but
cannot clearly interpret the meaning of this. It does tell them that an
eye watching them is familiar with them. The brothers see it as some
kind of heavenly sign signifying that they are being brought to justice
for their earlier crime against Joseph.
Some on the list insist on dismissing this presence rather than trying
to account for it, as does Douglas Galbi, who notes Hebraic influences
in England. He could also have mentioned that there was even Christian
Caballa in circulation, material written by Christians that had studied
Jewish Caballa, and that the Talmud's Pirke Avoth section, from which
many of the quotes were taken, had been translated into Latin twice
during the early 1560s, though yet to be explained on this basis are the
passages in other sections of the Talmud, like King Priam's speech. Also
needing explanation is the poet's familiarity with Judaic cultural
thought and Talmudic concepts.
Peter Bridgman insists that because "there is not the faintest evidence
for such a community in Stratford," it was not there. Did he ever hear
of James Wilmot who 150 years after Shakespeare's death made a careful
search of evidence of the poet in Stratford. He was obviously impressed
by what he found. In fact, he found it so shocking that he had all that
he had found burned after his death. With such vandalism, can anyone
expect that there would be direct evidence available about the poet? So
much for the conclusions of scholars who conclude from a partial record.
Maybe there are scholars that can give a different explanation for many
of the findings I have reported in my books and I certainly would
welcome this. But after more than 10 years of being involved with this
material, I am impressed that this points to a poet with direct ties to
Judaism, a person within the culture rather than an outsider.
And concerning "codes," which word I use in a general sense as pointing
to hidden communication, I would also note that such hidden
communication appears in Shakespeare's work in a variety of ways,
including as ciphers, steganography, code material such as Semaphor type
codes-one if by land, two by sea-and even ELS (Equal Letter Space)
codes. For example, Sonnet 148, which contains the poet's names, also
has his name W-I-L-L written twice as an ELS code, one time going
forward and one time reading backward at counts of 142 and minus 146 --
an appreciable feat of mathematical probability that is backed up by the
special significance of occurring in that very sonnet.
While the significance of all this is debatable, the very fact that this
is there is not. It is not the product of an active imagination. I would
think scholars would be anxious to learn of it so that they can do their
stuff in determining its significance in accordance with scholarly
standards, as William and Elizabeth Friedman did in their book on the
numerous reported Shakespeare ciphers, which they had found, one and
all, bogus. (I wager that were they alive, they would not find the ones
I discovered bogus.)
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