The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0386  Friday, 25 February 2005

From:           David Basch <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 24 Feb 2005 22:25:56 -0500
Subject:        Antonio, A Convert


I briefly discussed the issue of Antonio as a Jewish convert in earlier
postings to the list. I first got on to this observation from Neil
Hirschson's perceptive article in Midstream Magazine in the late 1980s.
I have since added some new details to this material, which might be of
interest. I have therefore repeated what I wrote before and have added
these details:

    Were you to read the book [The Hidden Shakespeare] you
    would learn the evidence that Antonio, the Merchant, is
    himself an apostate Jew. Shylock in talking to him
    mentions numerous times expressions, such as "OUR [holy]
    Abram," "Suffrence is the badge of all OUR tribe," and
    compares Antonio to a "publican" ( "How like a publican
    he looks" ) publicans were Jews in service to the Romans.
    Shylock also notes that Antonio "lends for a Christian
    courtsy." Nothing wrong with that if you are a Christian
    but not so nice if you are a Jew lending for free to
    people who persecute you.

    When it is recognizes that Antonio is a former Jew, the
    line becomes transformed within the new context. It means
    now that "I hate him for he is a Jew that has become a
    Christian." But note that Shylock then thinks better of it
    and tries to win his love by giving him a free loan. In
    fact, Jewish Talmudic law requires a Jew be given a free
    loan even if he has converted.

Note Shylock's inclusive "our" in these expressions. There is even one
more such quote, when Shylock says of Antonio, "he hates OUR sacred
nation." Now compare Shylock's comment spoken to Christian Bassanio,
dropping the "our," saying: "Tubal, a wealthy Hebrew of MY tribe."

                                       David Basch

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