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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: March ::
Untouchable Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0190  Friday, 28 March 2008

[1] 	From:	Nicole Coonradt <
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	Date:	Thursday, 13 Mar 2008 18:12:04 +0000
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0174 Untouchable Shakespeare

[2] 	From:	Robert Projansky <
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	Date:	Sunday, 16 Mar 2008 23:54:58 -0700
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0139 Untouchable Shakespeare


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Nicole Coonradt <
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Date:		Thursday, 13 Mar 2008 18:12:04 +0000
Subject: 19.0174 Untouchable Shakespeare
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0174 Untouchable Shakespeare

Aaron makes an excellent point about WS working with "the artifact of 
the genre"-- what I called a kind of trope. If he knows this tradition 
exists and is accepted among his audience, it becomes the safe cover for 
a different message. (See current posts at "Now Available"-- by the 
titles, one might not know they are related threads.)

And I hope that no readers think that anyone making such an argument is 
trying to make light of the long history of the suffering of Jews. What 
one should see as parallel to this, instead, is what were the similar 
problems of persecution in Christianity as WS saw it practiced and as it 
affected his England most directly. He saw hypocrisy, which actually 
becomes highlighted when we are forced to see Judaism and Christianity 
in contrast. After Christ, there was supposed to be a new covenant, one 
of love and mercy. Portia's famous speech on mercy seasoning justice is 
a direct message to Elizabeth whose government was anything but merciful.

Best,
Nicole

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Robert Projansky <
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Date:		Sunday, 16 Mar 2008 23:54:58 -0700
Subject: 19.0139 Untouchable Shakespeare
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0139 Untouchable Shakespeare

William Blanton says:

 >It is past time for students of Shakespeare to get their heads out
 >of the gutter of anti-Semitism. The Merchant of Venice is no more
 >anti-Semitic than Huckleberry Finn is racist. Shylock is not the Jew;
 >he is the Devil. How many times does Shakespeare have to say that
 >before we believe him?

Gutter of anti-Semitism? Shakespeare, as usual, doesn't say that or 
anything else for himself. His characters are thoroughly anti-Semitic, 
and although Shakespeare's Venetians, by my quick count, use "devil" at 
or about Shylock about seven times, they call or refer to him as "Jew" 
over sixty times, including "villain Jew" and "dog Jew." And I don't 
think anybody in the play sees any devil in him separate and apart from 
his Jewish identity; if they call him devil, it's only because he is a Jew:

Ant.
I pray you thinke you question with the Iew:
You may as well go stand vpon the beach,
And bid the maine flood baite his vsuall height,
Or euen as well vse question with the Wolfe,
The Ewe bleate for the Lambe:
You may as well forbid the Mountaine Pines
To wagge their high tops, and to make no noise
When they are fretted with the gusts of heauen:
You may as well do any thing most hard,
As seeke to soften that, then which what harder?
His Iewish heart.

And Bellario's letter refers to "the cause in Controuersie, betweene the 
Iew and Anthonio the Merchant." He's not "Shylock the moneylender" or 
even "Shylock the Jew," just "the Jew."

I agree that MOV is not an anti-Semitic play, and the Huckleberry Finn 
analogy is apt in another way, even though Huck is entirely lovable and 
Shylock is a nasty piece of work. There is that immensely moving moment 
when Huck, in lying to save Jim, naively shows us how much better a 
person he is than the society around him whose values he believes he 
should believe in. In MOV, WS gives us a moment of similar powerful and 
moving insight. He piles on the anti-Semitism of Elizabethan England and 
ratchets up Shylock's nastiness, e.g., he never has him show any feeling 
for his lost daughter or even mention her without wailing for his money 
or jewels in the same breath. When Tubal tells him he heard Jessica has 
traded a ring for a monkey Shylock starts to wail again about the loss 
of his jewelry, but then WS uses this momentum to jiu-jitsu his 
audience, suddenly forcing them to see Shylock's humanity

Shy.
Out vpon her, thou torturest me Tuball, it was
my Turkies, I had it of Leah when I was a Batcheler: I
would not haue giuen it for a wildernesse of Monkies

For me that's the most moving line Shakespeare ever wrote, and it comes 
as a total surprise in the play. It must have been as new and different 
an experience as Shakespeare's audience could have had in a theater. 
Shylock's hurt has no bounds. Wilderness suggests the vastness and 
enormity of her betrayal, and the monkey, an almost- human-looking dirty 
little beast, is emblematic of Jessica's "unnatural" and unbearable 
callousness. Shakespeare takes us in just a few words into this nasty 
man's heart of hearts as it is being torn and shows us, even in 
Shylock's merchant's way of expressing  pricelessness, a world of 
feeling-of hurt-we could not have guessed at, a glimpse of the humanity 
hidden deep inside even this  terrible man. Untouchable? I hope the 
Merchant of Venice will play forever.

Best to all,
Bob Projansky

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