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The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0180 Friday, 16 April 2010
 From: Marilyn A. Bonomi <
 From: Thomas Hunter <
While Mr. Basch believes Mr. Bishop "shows a gross ignorance of Judaism" I'd say rather that Mr. Basch shows a lack of awareness of *Shakespeare's* "gross ignorance of Judaism."
Jews were officially outlawed in England in Shakespeare's time. Certainly there were Jews in England anyway, including at least one at Elizabeth's court (though he was later executed for treason). And certainly those Jews who were surviving in England were not evincing outward shows of their religious or traditional practices.
Given this simple historical fact, the likelihood that Shakespeare himself had knowledge of Judaic laws, traditions and practices is somewhere less than slim.
Shakespeare in MoV, as in Hamlet, as in R&J, as in, for that matter, every play not set in England (and I'd venture to say in large part even those set in England) creates a world, not recreates one. The world of Shylock's Venice is not the Venice of 1600 or 1500 or 1400... it's the Venice of Shakespeare's brilliantly inventive imagination. The Jews in MoV are as fictional as the Venice in which Shakespeare sets them. Absent evidence that Shakespeare had personal experience enough to know that his portrait of Shylock the Jew is inaccurate, we have to conclude that his portrayal is not intended to provide any hidden message that Shylock is not what Shakespeare has portrayed him to be.
Shylock most definitely is not the equivalent of a modern bank loan officer; such a concept would have been totally foreign to Shakespeare's experience and to his audience as well.
I believe the "boon" granted Shylock of being "allowed" to convert in order to avoid a worse fate is part of the irony of the play's commentary on the lack of Christian mercy on the part of the "good" Christians in power in his invented Venice.
Those who ride hobby horses of coded messages of Shakespeare's religious beliefs, or esoteric knowledge that he had to hide within those coded messages, are reading far beyond the text and much too far into their own imaginations.
I do, however, agree with Mr. Basch that Jessica's betrayal of her father is not presented as an example of virtue; rather, I believe it is an example of the lack of "Christian" values and virtues in that she is praised for this betrayal, and for her thievery.
Nonetheless, I see no messages of "brotherhood" in MoV, unless it be the "brotherhood" of Christians as they unite against the Other.
Of the dozens of responses to The Merchant of Venice throughout the history of Shakespeare criticism, which I have read, the comments by David Basch come closest in my opinion to the true purpose and meaning of the play and in turn the play's dramatic structure. The play appears not to have been written for the mob, although so many through the years have reacted to it without understanding its profound humanism and have, therefore, borne out in live and very ironic example the social criticism which the play makes. I would like to assure Mr. Basch that exploration--prospectively a book full--is being given to this thesis (including especially the theme of brotherhood of Christians, Jews, and all mankind) and associated aspects of the play. All I can say at this point is that the consistency and symmetry which appear by reading the play in ways he has suggested are compelling support for its truth.
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