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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: August ::
Redheads
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0548  Tuesday, 21 August 2007

[1] 	From: 		Virginia Byrne <
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	Date: 		Monday, 20 Aug 2007 10:59:14 EDT
	Subj: 		Re: SHK 18.0537  Redheads

[2] 	From: 		Larry Weiss <
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	Date: 		Monday, 20 Aug 2007 13:29:27 -0400
	Subj: 		Re: SHK 18.0542 Redheads

[3] 	From: 		Donald Bloom <
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	Date: 		Monday, 20 Aug 2007 15:12:45 -0500
	Subj: 		RE: SHK 18.0542 Redheads

[4] 	From: 		Robert Projansky <
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	Date: 		Monday, 20 Aug 2007 15:18:23 -0700
	Subj: 		Re: SHK 18.0542 Redheads


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Virginia Byrne <
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Date: 		Monday, 20 Aug 2007 10:59:14 EDT
Subject: 18.0537  Redheads
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0537  Redheads

I went to Tanglewood Saturday night and noted that in Berlioz's 
DAMNATION OF FAUST that the devil's red hair is referred to (sorry for 
dangling the preposition).

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Larry Weiss <
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Date: 		Monday, 20 Aug 2007 13:29:27 -0400
Subject: 18.0542 Redheads
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0542 Redheads

Like Hardy, I too have been enjoying the recent threads.  It seems to me 
that some of them -- like this one and the dinner/supper discussion -- 
highlight the seams between classical historicism and presentism.  David 
Basch's post, in particular, illustrates how a particular soio-political 
outlook can color our perceptions of Elizabethan/Jacobean attitudes, 
even if it leads to patent inconsistencies.  Mr. Basch begins by noting 
(without citation of authority) that

["Elizabethans seem to have had a knee jerk reaction about the evil-ness 
of Jews, a condition that supposedly showed itself like a badge in what 
Jews looked like-Jews that they had never seen. Hence Shylock was given 
a red wig and big nose to make this sentiment most apparent."]

Then after observing that modern "commentators truly take account of the 
character of Shylock as revealed by his lines in the play and the 
context of those lines that we get a more humanized sense of him in 
theatrical performances," Mr. Basch says,

["That the 'red wig' is not Shakespeare's characterization of Shylock is 
made abundantly clear when Portia arrives at the Venetian court and has 
to ask 'Which is the Jew and which the merchant?'"]

The only way I can harmonize the two bracketed quotations is to construe 
Mr. Basch's thesis as contending that Elizabethans in general had a 
stereotypical view of Jewish appearance but Shakespeare did not share 
that view, even though he evidently allowed his character to be 
portrayed in the stereotypical fashion. That thesis -- if, in fact, I 
have correctly interpreted what Mr. Basch is saying -- is not inherently 
illogical; but it does require more support than one eight-word passage 
from the play and an unsupported idea of the makeup used on the 
Elizabethan stage.

So far as I have ever read, the red wig was introduced in the 
McCready/Irving era.  I would be very interested in any primary source 
for the notion that it was current in 1596-1600.  As for the "big nose," 
I am not aware that this ever was a theatrical convention, although I 
suspect it was used occasionally in the 19th Century and early 20th. 
Again, what support is there for its being conventional?  James 
Shapiro's section on the supposed racial distinctiveness of Jews says 
nothing about either hair color or proboscis dimensions (J. Shapiro, 
Shakespeare and the Jews 170-73 [Columbia U.P. 1996]).

Mr. Basch's construction of Portia's question at the beginning of the 
trial scene is reasonable; it is certainly possible that the audience is 
being told that there is no outward way to distinguish between the 
merchant and the moneylender.  But that straightforward interpretation, 
which seems to me to be the least dramatically satisfying, is certainly 
not the only one.  For example, the line could be played for laughs, as 
I have seen done to great effect.  Or -- my personal favorite -- the 
line might be taken as a false indication by Portia/Balthazar that s/he 
is completely evenhanded.

In short, it seems to me that Mr. Basch has inadvertently provided 
support for the idea I floated during the roundtable that theoretical 
labels like "historicism," "presentism," etc., say more about the 
critics than about the author or his plays.

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Donald Bloom <
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Date: 		Monday, 20 Aug 2007 15:12:45 -0500
Subject: 18.0542 Redheads
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0542 Redheads

I confess to being a little frustrated by many of the responses to this 
topic.

On the one hand, it seems to be generally true that, when associated 
with Judas or with Jews, red hair was a sign of an evil character.

On the other hand, red hair is a moderately common variant among people 
of Celtic and Germanic origins -- including, as has been pointed out, 
the queen and both her parents.

I would gather then that there is no negative association with red hair 
outside the Jew / Judas association.

Or is there?

At various times people with red hair have been thought to have "fiery" 
tempers and a higher degree to sexual lust than others (see Gulliver). I 
also recall reading somewhere (Laurence Durrell, I believe, but other 
places, too) that red hair was (and is) considered unlucky in the Arabic 
world.

Does anybody know what's going on here?

With regard to temper and lust, we can guess that both are suggested by 
the fiery quality of the hair and the fiery quality of traits-rather 
simple, not to say simple-minded, folkloric association. But is that the 
thinking of experts in folklore?

With regard to Jews and Judas, does anybody know why or how they came to 
be associated with red hair? It would seem to be a very odd sort of 
connection, or does it have a common origin with the unluckiness still 
apparently sensed in the Middle East? Did one cause the other?

If anybody has any authoritative sources to supply, I would love to have 
them.

don

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Robert Projansky <
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Date: 		Monday, 20 Aug 2007 15:18:23 -0700
Subject: 18.0542 Redheads
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0542 Redheads

David Basch says:

That the "red wig" is not Shakespeare's characterization of Shylock is 
made abundantly clear when Portia arrives at the Venetian court and has 
to ask "Which is the Jew and which the merchant?" Obviously, Shylock has 
no distinguishing horns.

If there's anything obvious at all in that question, it's that who is 
who is obvious, not obscure. Portia doesn't have to ask anything because 
she is a total fraud here, appearing as 'Balthasar' to fix the case 
against Shylock and get her husband's pal off the hook. His/ her 
question is a phony one. She knows who's who.

The question may be many things: a smokescreen to establish - falsely - 
the judge's ignorance of the parties, or an expression - also false - of 
the judge's impartiality; maybe it's emblematic of the  philosophical 
and scholarly judge's indifferent ignorance of the  everyday 'real' 
world, or perhaps it's or an ironic dig at Antonio,  or a place for a 
sight gag re the judge's nearsightedness. Of course we can't know what 
WS intended that Q to mean as he wrote it. I suspect he meant all or 
most of the above (none of which does any disservice to the play), and 
all of these notions essentially depend on Shylock being easily 
distinguishable from Antonio. The audience knows who is who and unless 
the difference is obvious the line serves very little theatrical 
purpose. What I think is obvious is that on Shakespeare's stage which 
man was which must have been made obvious -- maybe with a hook-nosed 
Shylock sitting there redly bewigged.

Bob Projansky

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