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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: March ::
Untouchable Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0164  Tuesday, 11 March 2008

[1] 	From:	Carol Morley <
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	Date:	Tuesday, 11 Mar 2008 12:53:06 +0000
	Subj:	RE: SHK 19.0159 Untouchable Shakespeare

[2] 	From:	Nicole Coonradt <
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	Date:	Tuesday, 11 Mar 2008 14:42:52 +0000
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0159 Untouchable Shakespeare

[3] 	From: 	Ronan, Cliff <
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	Date:	Tuesday, 11 Mar 2008 13:32:45 -0500
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0159 Untouchable Shakespeare


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Carol Morley <
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Date:		Tuesday, 11 Mar 2008 12:53:06 +0000
Subject: 19.0159 Untouchable Shakespeare
Comment:	RE: SHK 19.0159 Untouchable Shakespeare

Many thanks to everyone who has contributed information on and off the 
list. I've been suffering from Hotmail's mistaken spam epidemic and been 
in Shaksper exile for quite some time. Today they must finally have read 
my many complaints and reinstated the connection.

Looking forward to catching up on eveyone's more recent comments.

Best wishes,
Carol

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Nicole Coonradt <
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Date:		Tuesday, 11 Mar 2008 14:42:52 +0000
Subject: 19.0159 Untouchable Shakespeare
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0159 Untouchable Shakespeare

Dear Members,

I apologize for jumping into this thread belatedly, but I've only just 
surfaced from finals week (quarter system) and was able to revisit these 
posts.

My own interest in this thread is somewhat personal. As an MA student, a 
fairly pompous professor (a Victorian scholar by area), told our class 
one day that he "could no longer abide Shakespeare given [WS'] 
anti-Semitism." Two of us found this surprising. We'd been discussing 
"the canon"-- broadly speaking of all lit-- and the professor had shared 
his annoyance (he was frequently voicing his displeasure with something) 
with us about how while the canon was being broadened and rewritten (ala 
Greenblatt's "Redrawing the Boundaries"), Shakespeare is still a 
mainstay at most universities, generally, and still claims his own 
courses at most, specifically. This prompted me to rethink MoV. I ended 
up writing a thesis chapter on the play, which was later published, see 
"Shakespeare's Grand Deception:  _The Merchant of Venice_-- 
Anti-Semitism as 'Uncanny Causality' and the Catholic-Protestant 
Problem." _Religion and the Arts_, 11.1(2007): 74-97.

I note this because the article first reviews the critical heritage and 
the debate about the play's anti-Judaism (anti-Semitism was not a term 
in the Bard's day) highlighting the key arguments of both camps:  the 
one condemning the Bard vs. the one defending him. I also give the 
pertinent history of Jews in England (or not) when the play was penned 
(primarily via James Shapiro's salient study that anyone revisiting the 
play ought to read first ). A similar recent article that predated my 
own, and of which I learned somewhat belatedly in the process, is by 
John Klause, also Relarts 7.1./2 (2003): 65-102) that explores Shylock 
as a militant Puritanical figure in the play. My study references Klause 
but reads the play differently. Basically my take is that the Judaism in 
the play is a trope of sorts used to examine not Venice, but England, to 
offer a critique of the hypocrisy in Christianity, mainly the Protestant 
variety.

What I find problematic is that so many people are apt to read the play 
anachronistically, most understanding very little about it. A close 
reading of it, situating it within the playwright's own historical 
context, offers far more than most people realize whether they are lay 
readers or scholars. I think the anti-Judaism in the play actually works 
as a device to *effect* our responses (yes, with an "e"), that the play 
in fact forces us to react in a certain way.

 From the abstract about this conversion play:  Through the lens of 
Dissident Theory, "This reading offers a measured departure from most 
existing scholarship by exploring the play _poststructurally_ as the 
site of a metaphoric, performative conversion where Shakespeare employs 
the trope of anti-Semitism ironically to convey a coded message about 
the moral incoherence in popular Christianity-- specifically the aroused 
anxieties about _Christian_ identity as seen in forced conversions and 
the complete violation of the basic tenets of mercy and justice which 
highlight the hypocrisy in Christianity as Shakespeare saw it practiced."

Best wishes,
Nicole

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Ronan, Cliff <
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Date:		Tuesday, 11 Mar 2008 13:32:45 -0500
Subject: 19.0159 Untouchable Shakespeare
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0159 Untouchable Shakespeare

 >"The telos of The Merchant  . . is clearly (if awkwardly)
 >anti-Semitic but the play exposes[,] for us . . .  to 'read'[,]
 >its contours." How can John Drakakis  "'read' . . .  contours"
 >and thereby expose and decode the playwright's "telos" or
 >thematic/emotional goal?

If John's 'read[ing]' is based on a work's external "contours," who is 
to say whether they reveal-or conceal-inner structures? Contour, even 
the end-point of a contour, is as much a problem as a solution. Even 
when a play's title invites attention to the work's ending, will there 
be a teleological 'one-size-fits-all' meaning? What message and/or 
effect is on Shakespeare's mind when he gives Feste his charming song 
about external and internal weather at the conclusion to Twelfth Night? 
Or why does Shakespeare compose for Bertram the final couplet of 
qualified surrender to his king and bride in All's Well That Ends Well?

As Joe Egert suggests, why shouldn't Shakespeare be a 'polysemite,' 
whether or not he was the lover-hater of an ethnically Jewish woman? Can 
any of us avoid being sporadically confused, unsettled, or conflicted 
about even the shifting elements within our own selves? And even if it 
be argued that we moderns possess a Pavlovian consistency, such typical 
early modern geniuses as Shakespeare, Montaigne, and Pico did not think 
they did.

Shakespeare purveys neither the whole truth, nor a rigidly balanced 
truth, about such matters as religion, politics, gender, sexuality, 
class, charity, or material goods.

He exploits, rather than cuts off, discussion of most issues-just as he 
unleashes numerous meanings in the words he employs. It is therefore 
reductive to think that literary "contours" can be universally 
identified to the satisfaction of the 'beating mind' of each spectator 
or reader during  every moment of his/her subsequent life. Cliche as it 
may be to have to say it, the polysemous perspectives and fruitful 
indeterminacy in Shakespeare works are important sources of the plays' 
perennial interest and challenge.

Cliff Ronan
Texas State University

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