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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: March ::
Untouchable Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0159  Monday, 10 March 2008

[1] 	From:	Thomas Pendleton <
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	Date:	Friday, 7 Mar 2008 14:28:06 -0500
	Subj:	RE: SHK 19.0147 Untouchable Shakespeare

[2] 	From:	William Godshalk <
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	Date:	Friday, 07 Mar 2008 15:19:18 -0500
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0147 Untouchable Shakespeare

[3] 	From:	Joseph Egert <
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	Date:	Friday, 7 Mar 2008 13:03:57 -0800 (PST)
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0147 Untouchable Shakespeare

[4] 	From:	Peter Bridgman <
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	Date:	Saturday, 8 Mar 2008 00:36:06 -0000
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0147 Untouchable Shakespeare

[5] 	From:	David Basch <
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	Date:	Sunday, 09 Mar 2008 15:48:28 -0400
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0147 Untouchable Shakespeare


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Thomas Pendleton <
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Date:		Friday, 7 Mar 2008 14:28:06 -0500
Subject: 19.0147 Untouchable Shakespeare
Comment:	RE: SHK 19.0147 Untouchable Shakespeare

I suspect that (understandably) John Drakakis read the five quoted 
lines, to which he responded, as mine.  In fact, they were Bill 
Blanton's, and my own contribution was no more than the final word "Once."

I may, however, be quite wrong; perhaps I should have said "Twice."

Tom Pendleton

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		William Godshalk <
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Date:		Friday, 07 Mar 2008 15:19:18 -0500
Subject: 19.0147 Untouchable Shakespeare
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0147 Untouchable Shakespeare

John Drakakis tells Tom Pendleton that he is "quite wrong."  John 
insists that "The telos of The Merchant is clearly (if awkwardly) 
anti-Semitic but the play exposes for us, and makes available for us to 
'read' its contours." I checked the OED for "telos" -- a word I rarely 
use -- and the editors of the OED suggest: "End, purpose, ultimate 
object or aim." So, according to John, the ultimate aim, the final 
purpose of The Merchant of Venice is anti-Semitic. I would like to point 
out to John that The Merchant of Venice is merely words on a page. It 
does not proclaim itself as pro-Semitic or anti-Semitic or anything 
else. It is the reader who activates the text by reading and judging it. 
Because you, John, read the script as anti-Semitic does not mean that 
Tom Pendleton is "quite wrong," or that you have any claim on 
teleological "truth."

Bill

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Joseph Egert <
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Date:		Friday, 7 Mar 2008 13:03:57 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 19.0147 Untouchable Shakespeare
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0147 Untouchable Shakespeare

John Drakakis writes: "The telos of The Merchant is clearly (if 
awkwardly) anti-Semitic but the play exposes for us, and makes available 
for us to 'read' its contours."

To cite an earlier poster, Shakespeare himself, neither philosemitic 
(excepting perhaps the Dark Lady Lanier) nor antisemitic, remained to 
the bitter end an unrepentant polysemite.

Joe Egert

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Peter Bridgman <
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Date:		Saturday, 8 Mar 2008 00:36:06 -0000
Subject: 19.0147 Untouchable Shakespeare
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0147 Untouchable Shakespeare

Hardy quotes the Scotsman newspaper ...

 >A JEWISH school tumbled down national league tables after
 >pupils refused to answer questions on Shakespeare because
 >they believed he was antisemitic.
 >
 >Nine girls at the Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School in Stamford
 >Hill, north London, got no marks for their national curriculum
 >Shakespeare tests as a result of their protest.
 >
 >The view of Shakespeare as prejudiced against Jews stems from
 >his portrayal of the money-lender Shylock in The Merchant Of Venice.

The Scotsman article doesn't mention the fact that The Merchant of 
Venice was not on the syllabus, and that the girls weren't asked to read 
or study the play.  The questions on the exam paper were all on The 
Tempest, which was on the syllabus.

It's very likely that these 14 year old girls from Orthodox Jewish homes 
have no knowledge of MoV, other than the belief that it's anti-Semitic.

Peter Bridgman

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		David Basch <
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Date:		Sunday, 09 Mar 2008 15:48:28 -0400
Subject: 19.0147 Untouchable Shakespeare
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0147 Untouchable Shakespeare

I never cease to be amazed at the distorted understanding of 
Shakespeare's play, The Merchant of Venice, that persists up to the 21st 
century. This is forced to work against what the poet actually wrote in 
his lines, which somehow fail to reach their mark. That this happens, it 
seems to me, is rooted in a propensity to believe that Shakespeare 
shared the anti-Semitism of his time and wrote it into his play when the 
case is quite the opposite.

To be sure, Shylock is portrayed as a moneylender, which is nothing more 
sinister than today's banker. (How many readers have ever been mugged by 
an accountant, let alone a banker?) But, yet, there are those who think 
that a Jew, a religious Jew yet, forbidden by Jewish law to cut human 
flesh and who in the play sides with Venice's slaves in a plea-would cut 
up a human being in open court? It is totally preposterous as a thesis 
and would indeed be a sign of Shakespeare's anti-Semitism if that is how 
Shakespeare actually characterized him, which it wasn't.

A deeper analysis-not by me but by an actor-director of the early last 
century-presented a cogent argument that what we see in the play as 
Shylock's ferocity is merely his charade of the monstrousness expected 
of Jews. Shylock has put on this antic in order to scare Antonio into 
begging for mercy from the Jew he had reviled. This has as solid a 
thesis speaking for it as any of the others.

In the play, Shylock's plan is demolished by Portia who intervenes at 
the precise moment when Shylock would reveal the charade and it leaves 
Shylock in the pose of a monster, to the delight of audiences that 
expect no better of a Jew and wish to cling to this image no matter the 
abundant evidence in the play to the contrary.

The play Shakespeare wrote highlights the hypocrisy of the smug 
Venetians who, while they plead for mercy to fall as the gentle rain 
from the hand of Shylock the Jew upon Antonio, yet, when they gain the 
upper hand, they have not the slightest thought to grant mercy to 
Shylock. He is stripped of his wealth and forced to accept conversion, 
showing that the mercy that had been espoused is only slogan deep. This 
situation in the play (unnoticed by those who, unlike Shakespeare, lack 
any sympathy for the forsaken father robbed and deserted by his only 
daughter) is in fact an implicit judgment on the character of Shylock's 
persecutors and tells that playwright Shakespeare does not share the 
anti-Semitism of his countrymen. As A. E.  Moody, a noted scholar, 
observed, "Christian values are represented in this play by their 
absence." And not Harold Goddard alone detected "a grain of spiritual 
gold" in Shylock's ways.

In fact, Shakespeare gave his audience many opportunities to see things 
in a proper perspective. Were audiences of an alert mind, they would 
recognize the irony in Gratiano's stating precisely at the time of 
Jessica's robbing of her father, "By my hood, a Gentile and no Jew," and 
that Jessica, the convert, is a false witness against her father, a 
point observed by numerous commentators, and that Portia in court has to 
ask, "Which is the Jew and which the Gentile?" The latter is 
Shakespeare's way of telling his audience that Jews do not have horns.

Unfortunately, at this late date we do not get much of this stuff in 
mainstream anthologies and reviews of the play. Uninformed persons still 
talk like Lancelot of Shylock being a "devil." And what does this 
"devil" talk about with his friend after such a perceptive commentator 
on human nature like Lancelot leaves the scene? Says this "devil" 
Shylock, "No i[ll] luck stirring but what lights on my shoulders; no 
sighs but of my breathing; no tears but of my shedding." Shylock's 
speeches are sprinkled with the play's most moving expressions of 
feeling, indicating, it seems to me, the playwright's ultimate 
sympathies for this widower. But I suppose not everybody is a Shakespeare.

If these aspects of Shakespeare's play are to reach his public with 
their true force, responsible scholars will have to speak up more loudly.

David Basch


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