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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: February ::
Untouchable Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0082  Sunday, 10 February 2008

[1] 	From:	Anthony Burton <
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	Date:	Thursday, 7 Feb 2008 09:59:31 -0500
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0070 Untouchable Shakespeare

[2] 	From:	Lynn Brenner <
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	Date:	Thursday, 07 Feb 2008 15:35:22 -0500
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0062 Untouchable Shakespeare

[3] 	From:	Joseph Egert <
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	Date:	Sunday, 10 Feb 2008 11:46:23 -0800 (PST)
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0062 Untouchable Shakespeare


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Anthony Burton <
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Date:		Thursday, 7 Feb 2008 09:59:31 -0500
Subject: 19.0070 Untouchable Shakespeare
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0070 Untouchable Shakespeare

I was dramaturge for a Merchant of Venice production here in Amherst, 
back in the summer of '04, and wrote a piece for the program putting my 
case that the play -- widely and wildly misunderstood -- depicts 
anti-Semitism but is not anti-Semitic. One thing leading to another, a 
panel discussion was organized that fall at the U. Mass Center for 
Renaissance Studies. The participants included a local rabbi, Harley 
Erdman (of the U. Mass theater department, who had written a book on 
depictions of Shylock), and myself. Arthur Kinney, director of the 
Center, opened the discussion before a very crowded room with remarks 
that included the observation that, following WWII and the Holocaust, 
Merchant was a play that has been overtaken by time (an idea he 
acknowledged borrowing from a study of Othello) and could not be 
considered simply as one play among others in Shakespeare's canon. In 
the course of a very animated and far-ranging discussion, at least one 
Holocaust survivor and several other younger Jewish attendees (students, 
probably) strongly expressed the view that the play was irredeemably 
offensive and should simply not be performed.

So, from the evidence of this heterogeneous and generally enlightened 
corner of the world, contemporary reactions to Merchant can go far 
beyond simple distaste for its portrayals of anti-Semitism, to the 
belief that the harm from a performance is so much greater than the good 
that it simply should not be staged. I could recount similar reaction to 
other performances, expressed in group and individual discussions after 
the show, and am surprised that other contributors have not encountered it.

As a very brief digression, it seems obvious that the more vile the 
portrayal of Shylock, the more it appears that the unthinking 
anti-Semitism of the various Christians is justified. In this light, 
sympathetic portrayals of Shylock may be less about sanitizing him than 
about drawing attention to the Christians who disregard his humanity. 
But as every actor knows, every performance is a collaboration involving 
author, cast, and audience. The Merchant might be a barrel of laughs to 
Puck: "What fools these mortals be."

Tony Burton

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Lynn Brenner <
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Date:		Thursday, 07 Feb 2008 15:35:22 -0500
Subject: 19.0062 Untouchable Shakespeare
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0062 Untouchable Shakespeare

I think your sources are mistaken.

A few months ago, the Theatre for a New Audience -- an off-Broadway 
company that relies on subscriptions and donations -- put on the 
Merchant of Venice and Marlowe's Jew of Malta in repertory. Both 
productions sold out, there was a line of people waiting for 
cancellations at almost every performance, and I don't recall seeing or 
reading about any picketing or protests of any kind.

By contrast, there were picketers passing out fliers every evening at 
the recent off-Broadway production of `My Name is Rachel Corrie', a 
little play about a young American peace activist who was crushed to 
death by an Israeli bulldozer. In fact, the New York Theater Workshop, 
originally the venue for `Rachel Corrie', canceled the production 
altogether after protests that it was anti-Semitic. It was eventually 
produced by another company.

The New York Theatre Workshop also relies heavily on subscriptions and 
donations.

Lynn Brenner

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Joseph Egert <
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Date:		Sunday, 10 Feb 2008 11:46:23 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 19.0062 Untouchable Shakespeare
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0062 Untouchable Shakespeare

Carol Morley writes:

 >...I'm trying to
 >substantiate whether the pointed reaction I have encountered from older
 >Americans, that to read, teach or perform the Merchant is an act of
 >Anti-Semitism per se., is either widespread or influencing curricula...

On Israeli Hebrew and American Yiddish productions of the MERCHANT and 
their attendant controversies, check out:

---Oz, Avraham, "Transformations of Authenticity: the MECHANT OF VENICE 
in Israel", published in variant versions in FOREIGN SHAKESPEARE (1993); 
in YOKE OF LOVE (1995); and in NEW CASEBOOKS THE MERCHANT OF VENICE (1998).

---Berkowitz, Joel, SHAKESPEARE ON THE AMERICAN YIDDISH STAGE (2002).

Hope this helps,
Joe Egert

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