The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0372  Wednesday, 23 February 2005

[1]     From:   John-Paul Spiro <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Tuesday, 22 Feb 2005 17:03:22 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.0359 Noble Shylock

[2]     From:   Florence Amit <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 23 Feb 2005 16:55:42 +0200
        Subj:   SHAKSPER 2005: Noble Shylock

From:           John-Paul Spiro <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 22 Feb 2005 17:03:22 -0500
Subject: 16.0359 Noble Shylock
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.0359 Noble Shylock

In response to David Basch's reading of "The Merchant of Venice":

How many people in Shakespeare's audience were supposed to pick up on
this?  Is Antonio's secret history just something that the well-informed
(i.e., those familiar with Talmudic law) can identify?  Was Shakespeare
writing a play that sort-of satisfied his own audience's general
anti-Semitism while also winking at the lucky few who have the right
background to piece together the "real" meaning of the play?
Contemporary Shakespeare scholars aren't the only ones "wedded" to a
bad-Jew/good-but-cruel-Christian reading of the play.

Is there a reason why Shylock never actually calls Antonio a "converted
Jew" and in fact criticizes him as a Christian among Christians?  Can
you point me to a line in the play where Shylock implies that Antonio
used to be "one of us," or is it just in the hints of Talmudic wisdom
that creep out of Antonio's mouth despite his best efforts to pass as

If Shylock never intended to actually cut Antonio's flesh but rather
just wanted a piece of his ox (did Antonio own oxen?) then how can
Portia penalize Shylock for wanting to shed Antonio's blood?  Why does
Shylock refer to "your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken/In what part
of your body pleaseth me" (1.3.134-35)?

If Antonio was once Jewish, then how come he seems unfamiliar with the
story of Jacob and Laban (1.3.56: "Did he take interest?")?

That said, I agree with David Basch when he writes, "we have a play with
a different meaning than the old-time morality play expected, a modern
play which explores the merciless hypocrisy of the powers that be toward
the powerless alien in their midst, themselves strutting about in their
belief of their own justice and compassion even while they rape Shylock
of all his wealth for the "crime" of his unwisdom in daring to confront
a Christian in a court that was hardly neutral since Judge Portia was an
involved person in the case."  The hypocrisy of the Christians in the
play is blatant and not flattering; on the other hand, I don't think
this vindicates Shylock at all.  He seems to care just as much about his
ducats as his daughter, and he allows himself to be defined by his
hatred and resentment, not his social conscience or generosity.  Even
his plea for justice shows that he only thinks in bodily terms: he
cannot defend his integrity by referring to his soul or even his good
works, but simply in his physical existence and his desire to avenge.

No one comes off very well in this play, though you can admire Portia
for her resourcefulness while hating how she uses those resources.  But
I don't see any "nobility" in this play anywhere.

John-Paul Spiro

From:           Florence Amit <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 23 Feb 2005 16:55:42 +0200
Subject:        SHAKSPER 2005: Noble Shylock

Noble Shylock track

  Shylock's Support of Portia

The Italicized text below is taken from Yehuda T. Radday's adaptation
(Shakespeare Survey 32), of Schelomo Jehuda Schoenfeld's original book
written in Hebrew and German, A Hebrew Source for "The Merchant of
Venice". Since it is fairly typical of some representations of the court
room scene I use it as a kind of dialogue that allows me to put the
interpretation that I believe is correct. Schoenfeld's hypothesis of
Shakespeare's supposed plagiarisms from three unknown Hebrew language
sources I have either omitted or indicated by dotes where necessary.

Schelomo Yehuda Schoenfeld found himself in a dilemma whenever he dealt
with Shylock. "How could such an impossible 'Jewish Devil' be exhibited
in a play that so affably features the Hebrew language and Jewish lore?"
His answer to that implied question was to manufacture a hypothesis that
allows for Shakespeare's broad exploitation of three variant sources,
making him not responsible for the play's affirmative Jewish content.
Thus the actual drama is lost to Schoenfeld, as it is to all critics who
superficially evaluate Shylock.  The pejorative understanding of Shylock
which Schoenfeld adopted, of an uncompromisingly evil character, rather
than a man of virtue in disguise, is at odds with any possible cohesion
for presenting an intelligent Shakespearean drama. My alternative
reading is that in order to tempt the Duke to accept his case, Shylock's
strategy: his bait to catch a fish 'with all' (as proposed by Bassanio)
demanded that he parade most of the elements that Schoenfeld describes.
Since Antonio did not deign to understand Shylock's initial offer of
collaboration, brought forward with the Laban reference, for an interim
period he is reduced to actually believing that he is the hapless dupe,
contrived by the Jewish party for a lure. The audience complies and he
has become their woeful "good man" in perpetuity. In contrast, according
to my corrective reading, Antonio finally does comprehend why he has
been singled out to be vexed. He voluntarily transforms his mission into
an act of honor, helps the Jews and is amply compensated for his

Schoenfeld argues that by the application of multiple Hebrew meanings
Shylock believed that he could force the Duke to agree to his evil
forfeiture, since it is specified in a bond.  Such an odd proposition
falls in line with this researcher's others irrationalities regarding
Shylock. For even if Shylock's Hebrew would have been accepted by the
authorities, no proper court could allow an agreement to stand that
contained articles known only to one of the involved parties, nor would
  such a flimsy makeshift influence its preferred judgment. This
question must be put time after time to mainstream critics: Would
Shylock have been that stupid? The real reason for the Hebrew punning is
that it provides guide lines for whom-ever takes on the task of
intermediary before the Duke. Salerio appeals to the Marrano, Bassanio,
to rescue Antonio; but as it happens it is will be his fianc 

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