The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.2043  Thursday, 2 December 2004

From:           Ruth Ross <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 1 Dec 2004 17:57:48 -0500
Subject: 15.2038 Jewish Shakespeare
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.2038 Jewish Shakespeare

While I am finding this thread about Shakespeare and the Talmud
fascinating, I can't help but comment that "The Merchant of Venice" is,
above all, an anti-Semitic play. Shylock, for all the attempts to
humanize him, is a villain. The first time we see him he's sniveling and
then, when his daughter runs off, he's more interested in his ducats (he
mentions them first) than his child. We are trying to make Shylock (and
Shakespeare) politically correct to fit our notions of a world without
prejudice, but the Elizabethan world hated Jews. Their priests and
liturgy taught them that Jews killed their Christ and that Jews were
money-hungry usurers. Who loves the tax collector/pawn broker (calling
in a chit)/landlord. In Poland, the Jews managed huge estates for the
nobles and collected the rents; the peasantry hated them. In England,
when the Jews loaned the king money for the Crusades, etc., do you
really think the king loved paying off the debt?  So the audience at the
Globe, especially those standing in the "pit," would have vented their
hatred on Shylock. Never mind that Bassanio and his friend spit on the
man and treat him like a dog.

Now does this mean that Shakespeare was anti-Semitic? Who knows? Above
all, he was a business man who wanted to sell tickets and make money for
his company and himself. Give the crowd what it wants and they won't
throw garbage and demand their money back. He certainly knew his audience.

I was going to use this play with my Literature of Holocaust & Genocide
class, but I'm a bit leery of giving them any ammo to hate Jews...if the
great god Shakespeare hated them then it must be all right. I think I'll
pass. It's not that great a play and I'd hate to open a can of worms.
What if they hate it (and him) and then never want to read/see a
Shakespearean play ever after. Oy, what a predicament!

Ruth Ross

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