Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: February ::
Noble Shylock
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0333  Friday, 18 February 2005

[1]     From:   Larry Weiss <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Thursday, 17 Feb 2005 13:13:14 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0322 Noble Shylock

[2]     From:   JD Markel <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Thursday, 17 Feb 2005 12:13:04 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0322 Noble Shylock

[3]     From:   Ruth Ross <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Thursday, 17 Feb 2005 17:05:13 -0500
        Subj:   Noble Shylock

[4]     From:   Stephen Dobbin <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 18 Feb 2005 14:30:06 +0000 (GMT)
        Subj:   Noble Shylock


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Thursday, 17 Feb 2005 13:13:14 -0500
Subject: 16.0322 Noble Shylock
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0322 Noble Shylock

 >>Leah, the wife of Shylock, is the unloved wife of Jacob.
 >
 >those who tell us that Leah was the wife of
 >Shylock are equally guilty of fabrication.

Actually. Shylock never married anyone.  He is a fictional character.
But when that character says about a lost ring "I had it of Leah when I
was a bachelor" the audience is likely to surmise that he is now a
widower whose late wife was named Leah.  WS had mastered the skill of
conveying a great deal of information with only a few broad strokes of
his pen.  It would be extraordinary to assume that he did not expect his
audience to reach the natural conclusion.

Those who say "but Shylock does not actually say he had been married to
Leah, and other possibilities exist" are speaking true.  It is the
rational, scientific approach.  But it not good literary criticism.  It
is hardly skillful reading.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           JD Markel <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Thursday, 17 Feb 2005 12:13:04 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 16.0322 Noble Shylock
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0322 Noble Shylock

Mr. Luskin writes:

"Leah, the wife of Shylock, is the unloved wife of Jacob."

Leah was the ugly, nearsighted sister in the Genesis story.  Shylock
wouldn't have traded his Leah's ring for a "wilderness of monkeys,"
analogous perhaps to "for all the tea in China."  Given the play's
emphasis on Portia's supposed beauty and surfaces in general Shakespeare
picked an interesting name for Shylock's wife indeed.  He didn't choose
Rachel.

Mr. Willis writes:

"Again, not true. As far as we know, Shylock was played as a more or
less comic Jew until Charles Macklin, around 1740..."

I believe there was 80-100 year gap between the last Tudor performances
of MOV and the next, with much oral tradition probably lost, especially
during the Commonwealth.  I think a solution for actors considering
Shylock within the confines of "comic" and "tragic" approaches is to
play him both, where the text so signals to them.  For sure every
Shylock I've seen can't deliver Shylock's punchlines, but they do the
pathos fairly well.

Mr. Bridgman writes:

"Shakespeare's audience of course knew these stories backwards so the
Shylock-Jacob association would not necessarily have worked in Shylock's
favour."

I suspect Shakespeare picked the sheep story because it would be
familiar to the audience as one of the biblical rationales for usury and
increase.  Unlike the other bible stories also so used this one's got
sex, and foreshadows the "turn into men" repartee of Nerissa and Portia.
  S changed the biblical goats into sheep to match the other ovine
themes of the play, and probably the English were more familiar with
sheep anyway.

Antonio's huffy comments about this Jacob story matches contemporaneous
interpreters explaining away Jacob's arguable chicanery as the will of God.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ruth Ross <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Thursday, 17 Feb 2005 17:05:13 -0500
Subject:        Noble Shylock

I'd like to offer the following:  Shylock was tried as an alien, but
sentenced as a Jew. Portia points out that he lacks Christian mercy
because he is a Jew. His forced conversion removes his Jewishness.

Ruth Ross

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephen Dobbin <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 18 Feb 2005 14:30:06 +0000 (GMT)
Subject:        Noble Shylock

Robert Lapides is surprised I 'suggested that one has to be an
anti-Semite to use Jewish stereotypes unfairly.' I quite understand his
surprise, because that is not what I wished to suggest.

I was suggesting that, even if L. Swilley's description of Olivier's
Shylock as "a greedy, whiny, put-upon, hand-wringing sniveller" is a
fair and accurate description of his performance (which it is not) there
would be nothing inherently 'shameful', or other than morally neutral,
about those choices. The only circumstance I could imagine under which
such choices would be 'shameful' was if Olivier was intentionally trying
to create or encourage anti-Semitic feeling in his audience. But it
seems to me that to make such an accusation one has to have evidence
for, at the very least, one's suspicions that this was Olivier's intent,
if not evidence of the intent itself.

L.Swilley responds that s/he 'was thinking of the potential of the
character of Shylock as a full, complex human being, and the "shame" of
Olivier's two-dimensional presentation that missed it.'
There are several reasons I find this explanation disingenuous.

Firstly, L. Swilley refers only to 'what' Olivier portrayed, not 'how'
he portrayed it. Olivier does not stand accused of being implausibly
greedy, of whining unconvincingly, of seeming put-upon in a laboured,
two-dimensional fashion, of exaggerated, over-acted hand-wringing or of
snivelling unrealistically. No, he is simply described as portraying
Shylock in that way and - by omission - of portraying him only in that way.

Moreover, Robert Lapides, who appears to share L. Swilley's dislike of
Olivier's acting, unerringly understands his/her meaning and recasts
this catalogue of Olivier's 'shamefulness' as 'unfair Jewish
stereotyping'. But I am unclear whether he makes this identification
from having seen Olivier's performance or merely having read L.
Swilley's list. Would he condemn an interpretation making Malvolio out
to be 'a greedy, whiny, put-upon, hand-wringing sniveller' as unfair
Jewish stereotyping, or would the actor first have to give his voice and
mannerisms a particular and recognisably 'Jewish' cast - whether unfair
and stereotyped or whether observed from life?
But all this is beside the point because L Swilley's description of
Olivier's Shylock as a 'greedy, whiny, put-upon, hand-wringing
sniveller' is above all so obviously and deliberately selective and
misleading that one has to suspect his/her objectivity is, for some
reason, seriously skewed. I admit it is more than thirty years since I
saw the Miller/Olivier production and I have been unable to get hold of
a copy of the televised version in order to reacquaint myself with it,
but every critical comment I can find, whether contemporary with the
production or written more recently, and regardless of whether the
writer liked the performance, supports my memory that Olivier's
interpretation was very much in the 'noble Shylock' tradition.  Indeed,
in the same set of postings as L. Swilley's disavowal Peter Berek
recalls seeing Olivier playing Shylock "in 19th century costume... as
though he were a Rothschild... a figure of great cultivation and
sophistication." This seems so uncannily close to L. Swilley's advice to
directors to "try seeing (Shylock) as much as possible as a 19th century
banker, dignified and justly contemptuous of the society beneath him."
that one suspects L. Swilley was more positively affected by Olivier's
performance that s/he likes to admit.

Stephen Dobbin

_______________________________________________________________
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, 
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
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.
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.