The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0165 Tuesday, 11 March 2008
From: Nicole Coonradt <
Date: Tuesday, 11 Mar 2008 19:04:04 +0000
Subject: 19.0155 EMLS 13.3 Now Available
Comment: Re: SHK 19.0155 EMLS 13.3 Now Available
In reference to the recent EMLS link provided here by Sean Lawrence
(thank you, Sean!), I'd like to draw your attention to an interesting
article that addresses a topic of discussion at a different thread,
"Untouchable Shakespeare," where the author in EMLS discusses
Anti-Semitism and Usury in MoV. The article is by Jennifer Rich at
Hofstra University titled: "The Merchant Formerly Known as Jew:
Redefining the Rhetoric of Merchantry in Shakespeare's _Merchant of
Venice_." I mention it as interesting on various levels-- one of which
misses/ignores any discussion of the historical Catholic/Protestant rift
(something which even Greenblatt notes in _Will in the World_, a study
Rich references) and was a far more immediate concern than "The Jewish
Question" that so absorbs most readers these days.
Moreover, I wonder about the author's use of texts about usury.
Interestingly, Henry Smith, senior and junior, were both virulent
Puritans-- the former the famous "silver tongued" preacher and the
latter his son, a commissioner of the High Court of Justice at the trial
of King Charles I (the last Catholically-aligned monarch in English
history), was a signer of the King's death warrant, for which he was
later sentenced to death himself for "Regicide," but instead spent time
in the Tower (1660-64).
By contrast, Robert Filmer (also cited by Rich), was a supporter of
Charles I, being knighted by the king early in his reign. Based on the
more pressing problem between beleaguered Catholics and their Protestant
persecutors, it would make sense to dig a bit deeper when examining
these contemporary sources for discussions on usury. Note the quote form
Henry Smith's "Examination of Usury" (published in 1591, during a period
of severe Catholic persecution-- recall the priest hunts for Jesuits,
Edmund Campion having already been martyred in 1581, Robert Southwell
captured in 1592 and martyred in 1595-- they, along with others,
undergoing gruesome torture and execution, part of which entailed the
cutting out of the victim's still-beating heart), which Rich includes to
make a point about usury and heresy. Smith equates usurers with
"heretics" or "obstinate . . . Papists" who "persist . . . in Poperie"
(qtd. in Rich 9). "Papist" is the derogatory name Protestants used for
Catholics, typical of Smith's virulent Puritanism and anti-Catholicism.
Of concern, Rich "drops" in this quote from Smith with no further
analysis and ignores the obvious anti-Catholic sentiment offered by the
"silver-tongued" preacher. Interestingly, from Elizabeth I on after
Henry VIII's "reforms," the spiritual and temporal were united in the
English Monarch by law/through Oaths (see the Jacobean _Macbeth_ 4.2 for
topical discussion of treason at the Macduff household, a Shakespearian
insertion/digression in his source material from Holinshed). For a
comprehensive recent study on polemical texts during the 16th and 17th
centuries, see Arthur Marotti's interesting and informative _Religious
Ideology and Cultural Fantasy: Catholic and Anti-Catholic Discourses in
Early Modern England_. South Bend, IN: U of Notre Dame P, 2005.
Interestingly, is was Marotti's friend James Shapiro who suggested the
study when he asked, "Arthur, why don't you do Catholics?" (Marotti xi).
Rich does note Shapiro's comment that what seems important about Jews in
England in Shakespeare's time (Shapiro's study makes the case that they
did exist though having been driven from the country in 1290 under
Edward I's "Edict of Expulsion," forbidden to return on "pain of
death"), is ' "not the raw numbers of Jews . . . [but] the kind of
cultural preoccupation they became" (Shapiro 88) ' (qtd. in Rich 4). It
is this cultural "preoccupation" that the Bard takes up as cover for a
much different argument-- one about not Jews, but Christians.
It would be wonderful to have these fellow scholars join us at SHAKSPER
to discuss the issues.
At any rate, Carol Morely, the originator of the "Untouchable" thread
might find Rich's article useful for the questions it poses and the
sources the author cites, especially as it continues to read in the
tradition of seeing the play as anti-Semitic, though Rich falls into the
"defending the Bard" camp when she refuses to condemn Shakespeare. (See
her comment on Tubal and sympathetic characterization in note 15.)
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