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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: July ::
Shylock as Suffering Servant
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1255  Thursday, 28 July 2005

[1]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Monday, 25 Jul 2005 12:48:56 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1246 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[2]     From:   Stuart Manger <
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        Date:   Monday, 25 Jul 2005 17:59:30 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1246 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[3]     From:   Joseph Egert <
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        Date:   Monday, 25 Jul 2005 19:40:21 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1246 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[4]     From:   Florence Amit <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 26 Jul 2005 08:43:40 +0300
        Subj:   Subject: 16.1240 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[5]     From:   Florence Amit <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 27 Jul 2005 20:28:02 +0300
        Subj:   Subject: 16.1240 Shylock as Suffering Servant


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Monday, 25 Jul 2005 12:48:56 -0400
Subject: 16.1246 Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1246 Shylock as Suffering Servant

 >Finally, Larry Weiss alleges, "The trial scene makes clear that the law
 >of Venice would have supported him if he sought legal remedies to
 >recover his property."
 >
 >Really?
 >
 >With Jessica unconverted and Larry Weiss Pres.iding, perhaps Shylock
 >would taste justice even in those unEnlightened days. After her
 >conversion, that chance would evaporate, unless Shylock could barter,
 >say, Lorenzo's life for return of his property. Otherwise, he would have
 >to sue for a modest change of venue---outside Christian Europe.

This comment has a mildly paranoid flavor.  The problem that the Duke
and the other Christians had was how, if at all, they could save
Antonio's life in the face of a clear forfeiture, even though Antonio
was a respected member of the commonwealth and his adversary a despised
Jew.  There is nothing to suggest that, but for Portia's last moment
stroke of strict construction, Shylock would not have obtained his pound
of flesh.  On the contrary, "the law allows it and the court awards it."
  The argument, made so convincingly by Portia, that the court could not
wrest the law to its own desires because error would thereby worm its
way into precedent was compelling.  In other words, hard cases make bad
law.  (As an aside, perhaps the moral is that strict constructionists,
as well as judicial activists, are not immune from result-oriented
decision making, but the conservative approach is safer.)

If the issue were not the life of the defendant, but only damages for
conversion of the plaintiff's property, it seems unlikely that the same
court would have found in favor of the Christian defendant against the
Jewish plaintiff for that reason alone.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stuart Manger <
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Date:           Monday, 25 Jul 2005 17:59:30 +0100
Subject: 16.1246 Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1246 Shylock as Suffering Servant

What truly disturbs me about this whole thread from scholars whose
judgement in other things I respect?

[a] we seem to be assuming that Shakespeare knew as much about the
intimate living, worshipping, scholarly theological traditions and
customs of all manner of diverse Jewish communities - particularly in
Venice (see Florence Amit's comments about what she learnt from the
Ghetto visit in Venice) - as rafts of social, religious and cultural
historians SINCE Shakespeare's day. According to some, Shakespeare is
taking up post-holocaust positions in all sorts of ways in craftily
coded guises.  No-one can possibly buy that, surely? It is WE who have
made / are making the industry of sophistication and extrapolation,
surmise and interpretation in our own likenesses in ways that are so far
away from what the man could possibly have even known. Am I the only one
boggled here?
[b] concomitant with that is the tacit assumption that these are REAL
people in the play with a total life before, after and outside the play.
They don't, they simply do not.

What scares me a lot is that Shakespeare is the lost boy in all this as
we squabble and jostle and scream to be heard all totally sure of our
own righteousness. Shylock is a second-line character in a not terribly
well-structured play about nearly tragic love - an endemic theme in the
writer. Shak's abrupt dismissal of Shylock in Act 4 may be to some for a
variety of reasons personally wounding - that is just tough, people!
Shak wants to get on with what HE sees as the main action. I don't
happen to think that Act 5 is terribly well written - a bit galumphing
and clumsy all round - but that's what the man wrote, and no amount of
re-writing of the play through the prism of later cultural history to
make Shylock and the crisis of Renaissance European Jewry the central
focus of it all is going to change that. Why are there so few Arabic
scholars complaining about how the Prince of Morocco is depicted? He's
made into a buffoon? Just accept: Shakespeare wrote in a largely racist
and xenophobic age that had absolutely no hang-ups about being so.
Scots, English, Irish, Welsh, French, Germans, Spaniards, Italians -
probably more - that fat, the alcoholics, the puritans all get it in the
face, so do solemn, obsequious and machiavellian prelates of all stripes
and theologies. Shylock is dramatically useful and a good solid part to
play, but he is not singled out. It is OUR generation that has done
that, not Shakespeare.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Joseph Egert <
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Date:           Monday, 25 Jul 2005 19:40:21 +0000
Subject: 16.1246 Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1246 Shylock as Suffering Servant

Florence Amit accuses me of putting a "post Holocaust slant on Shylock's
supposed revenge."

Clearly the slant is pre-Holocaust as well, encompassing both the
Biblical Gentile conspiracy, as in Dinah's case, and the "Jim Crow"
antisemitism of Shylock's own era (see Luther's rants in SHK 16.1230).
Nor can one separate the Holocaust from its poisonous patristic and
medieval roots. The rabid Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher, as part of
his Nuremberg "defense," described himself in effect a true-begotten son
of Martin Luther, the source of all his screeds.

John Drakakis writes, "Stephen Orgel in a brilliant chapter of his
latest book pursues a similar line of enquiry to conclude that the
surname [is] English....The search for a semitic origin is, I fear,
fanciful."

I found Orgel's imagination of "Shylock" uncharacteristically narrow and
limited, and by no means convincing. There is little doubt in my mind
"Shiloh" constituted for Shakespeare a prominent source, among others,
for the alpha Iewe.

Regards,
Joe Egert

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Florence Amit <
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Date:           Tuesday, 26 Jul 2005 08:43:40 +0300
Subject:        Subject: 16.1240 Shylock as Suffering Servant

John Drakakis notes from Furness the name of Sir Richard Shylock and I
do remember vaguely a kind of revolutionary, from Harrison's journals I
believe, with a similar name. Both cases are and would be extremely weak
to deny the normative Jewish origins of Shakespeare's purposely Jewish
character.  (who has many befitting Hebrew transliterations of his name.)

When will the main stream stop clutching at straws in order to avoid
their own insignificance and errors in "The Merchant of Venice"?
Shakespeare gives you other plays to recover self esteem.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Florence Amit <
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Date:           Wednesday, 27 Jul 2005 20:28:02 +0300
Subject:        Subject: 16.1240 Shylock as Suffering Servant

Dear Dr. Sohmer and forum,

Let us recall what is taking place when Portia in the guise of Balthazar
demands, "Which is the merchant here and which the Jew?" (4.1.170)

First - the matter of how the play is conceived:  To consider the play
as a satire is called for by its very name. The Venetian based Comedia
dell' Arte invariably had its rich old MERCHANT. He is our Antonio,
reduced to being a Comedia character with his red and black striped
trousers, cloak and cap.

Now - the situation: Evidently Antonio was obliged to wear a prison
uniform to court making him resemble Pantolone. Tubal facilitated the
incarceration (III,i,115-118) in order to prevent him from decamping
before the court session at a time when Shylock's physical condition was
rapidly deteriorating. Can we wonder at Antonio's foreboding when he has
been reduced to this? No doubt, it is why Portia, herself robed in
Comedia dell' Arte garb: the Doctore,  wearing a university habit, plays
at "confusing" him with Shylock, in his masquerade from another
tradition.  Her question, "Who is the Merchant and who is the Jew?" that
recalls the MERCHANT of VENETIAN drama, besides hinting at the play's
genre and Antonio's procedural persona is an indication by Shakespeare
of the artificiality and in comparison, malignancy of the Jewish
prototype as the locals understand it. He is "Judas." with his sack.
However I dare say that the good Jew, Shylock's proper costume would be
a rather improvised assemblage - hardly comparable to the usual
theatrical traditions - like that of Albert Basserman. Shylock for his
hazard has become a character in a Purim Shpiel - a Jewish masquerade.
It is only as performer that he can be a Jew and act as no Jew would.

Yours,
Florence Amit

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