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Author Topic: Shylock: ultimate anti-Semitic stereotype
Macabee
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posted 29 January 2005 01:34 PM      Profile for Macabee     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
The Merchant of Venice: It still hurts
From: Vaughan | Registered: Mar 2004  |  IP: Logged
bittersweet
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posted 29 January 2005 01:59 PM      Profile for bittersweet     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Teaching the play only to older children seems sensible, and not censure. I do have to wonder if many really think that's censure--or if it's a silly straw man that makes good copy. A "mature approach to literature"--i.e., context--is not restricted to Merchant; we don't teach Lolita to young children, either, etc.
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skdadl
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posted 29 January 2005 02:05 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
In the latest version, Pacino's sensitive portrayal has turned Shylock into a character whose pain we feel. However, one thing is clear: Without a mature approach to the literature, Shylock becomes a tool for prejudice.

In this light, CJC has worked with school boards across the country asking that this particular play be taught in a later grade and by teachers who are able to translate the issues of intolerance and insensitivity as part of the lesson within the play.

On this last point, some have argued that this is tantamount to censorship. Nonsense. Age appropriate decisions in curriculum design is hardly censorship nor is it book banning.


I think that this is true and fair. Shakespeare scholars have struggled with this issue for as long as I can remember, anyway, and most have come to conclusions very like Farber's.

The Merchant belongs to a group of Shakespeare's plays often called "the problem plays" because, although they are formally structured as comedies, they remain troubling and only formally resolved at the end -- Measure for Measure would be another example.

One of the qualities I have always loved most in Shakespeare is the power and psychological subtlety that he puts into the poetry of all but a select few of his villains. Macbeth is a great example; even the ridiculous Malvolio is a touching example. To me, one of Caliban's speeches in the Tempest is the most moving thing that I have ever read, the speech that begins "Be not afeard ..."

And Shylock's great speech ranks with those:

quote:

SHYLOCK
To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else,
it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and
hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses,
mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my
bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine
enemies; and what's his reason? I am a Jew. Hath
not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs,
dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with
the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
to the same diseases, healed by the same means,
warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as
a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison
us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not
revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will
resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian,
what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian
wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by
Christian example? Why, revenge. The villany you
teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I
will better the instruction.

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aka Mycroft
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posted 29 January 2005 02:16 PM      Profile for aka Mycroft     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I think the Merchant of Venice could be used with supplementary material to educate students on anti-Semitism. The play's portrayal of Jews is certainly more textured and complex than Marlowe's "The Jew of Malta".

On the topic of the portrayal of Jews in literature has anyone read Art Spiegelman's graphic novel "Fagin the Jew"?


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skdadl
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posted 29 January 2005 02:27 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by aka Mycroft:
I think the Merchant of Venice could be used with supplementary material to educate students on anti-Semitism. The play's portrayal of Jews is certainly more textured and complex than Marlowe's "The Jew of Malta".


Mycroft, some people may have read the extract from Stephen Greenblatt's current bestselling book Will in the World that ran in the NY Times Book Review a few months ago. The Times chose to excerpt Greenblatt's speculative passage about Shakespeare's reaction to Marlowe's play, in the context of a real-life legal case playing out in London at the time.

I haven't read Greenblatt yet, and his speculative methods are certainly raising a lot of eyebrows, but that was one hell of a piece of New Historical writing, so I mean to get there some day soon.

And no, I haven't seen Pacino's performance yet, and I haven't read the Spiegelman, but they're all on the list. Spiegelman is magic, I think. He is creator of Maus, yes?


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bittersweet
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posted 29 January 2005 02:35 PM      Profile for bittersweet     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Greenblatt probably makes Kermode crazy; I like them both. I loved "Will in the World."
From: land of the midnight lotus | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged
miles
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posted 29 January 2005 02:39 PM      Profile for miles     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I thing that has always bothered me is that a lot of progressive groups banned together to protest the play showboat when it opened in Toronto in the late '80s. I was at some of the protests and agreed with them. But at the same time many of these same groups did not want to protest the Stratford Festivals production of teh Merchant of Venice.

I think that the character Shylock is an anti-semetic steriotype. We need to ensure that either education is provided about the stereotype or if that is not provided then it is up to each of us to protest it as we would any other hurtful stereotypes.


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skdadl
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posted 29 January 2005 02:45 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
PS: Macabee, I would dispute your thread title a bit.

In the popular culture, it may be that Shylock is the best-known stereotypical Jew, but as Mycroft has already pointed out, even in classical English literature, there is worse.

The worst anti-semitism I know of in the European classics appears in some of Voltaire's histories. In Voltaire's case, we know that he had cynical reasons for playing with ethnic-cultural stereotypes: he wished to undermine the French Roman Catholic church by any means available, and ridiculing and trivializing the Christian Old Testament served his purposes at times.

But there is no denying that Voltaire's caricatures of the major figures of OT history are vicious, utterly unmediated by any of the art or understanding that Shakespeare brings to his dramatization of Shylock, and probably much more deserving of your "ultimate" designation.

[ 29 January 2005: Message edited by: skdadl ]


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aka Mycroft
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posted 29 January 2005 03:04 PM      Profile for aka Mycroft     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I don't have a problem with Stratford staging the Merchant of Venice. Their most recent production was to have starred Al Waxman. His death resulted in the role being recast with Paul Soles in the lead. I didn't see it but I recall reviews at the time being favourable and saying that the play was staged as an exploration and criticism of anti-Semitism with Shylock portrayed not as a villain but as a victim whose negative aspects were the result of his having been victimised. While these modern productions emphasises parts of the play which have not traditionally been emphasised, the fact remains that they do draw on Shakespeare's attempts to make Shylock a human being with human motivations rather than a one dimensional villain. Without the humanistic elements of Shakespeare's play the more contemporary interpretations would not be possible (at least not without the addition of new scenes and dialogue). Shakespeare's Shylock was a victim as well as a villain and that should not be ignored.

I saw quite an excellent production of Merchant on PBS a year or so ago (I think it was a BBC adaptation) which underscored much the same point by emphasising the anti-Semitic cruelty of Shylock's taunters and portrayed Shylock in a sympathetic light.

Anyway, Fagin the Jew retells the Oliver Twist story from Fagin's point of view with a considerable backstory on Fagin's life before the Dickens story begins. Spiegelman based it on his research on the situation of Jews in Victorian England. Spiegelman's story also has Fagin as the victim of anti-Semitism, reduced to theivery by poverty, lack of education and anti-Semitic attitudes which barred Jews from many jobs and professions.

[ 29 January 2005: Message edited by: aka Mycroft ]


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lagatta
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posted 29 January 2005 03:22 PM      Profile for lagatta     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I thought the Star essay by Bernie Farber was far better than the title chosen. There is no question but that Shylock is one of the best known "Jewish villains" among classical literary works widely known to the general public - Fagin, like most of Dickens, is far more restricted to the English-speaking world - Shakespeare has been translated and performed everywhere.

Sadly, some 20th-century writers such as Céline and of course Nazi screenwriters have gone much further in their anti-semitic hatred. Shylock's motivations are at least situated in a time and place and how he was treated by the Christians.

Here is a database on antisemitism in literature.

Mycroft, I'll read "Fagin", though I'll never forgive Al Spiegelmann for depicting Nazis as cats! Cat Nazis, indeed. (The systematic persecution and torture to which cats were subjected, alongside such other usual suspects as "witches", heretics and Jews, has been pointed out to him since then...).


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Papal Bull
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posted 29 January 2005 03:30 PM      Profile for Papal Bull   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
skdadl:

Yes, he is brilliant. Spiegelman wrote Maus, which I devoured in its unique art and beautiful story-telling. He also did After the Fall, or something like that. It has been getting good reviews, I've yet to pick it up and give it a good read.

My favourite piece of literature pertaining to the Jewish life in the New World was Walt Eisner's A Contract With God. He is easily the alpha and the omega of the sequential art form.

[ 29 January 2005: Message edited by: Papal_Bull ]


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Coyote
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posted 29 January 2005 05:51 PM      Profile for Coyote   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Are you as angry at dear old Tommy, lagatta?

I performed in Merchant when I was 18; the first I had read it. Ultimately, and even given the "texture" skdadl mentions, I think the anti-Semitism is just palpable. Given the choice, I would not perform in it again and I would never pay to see it. Shakespeare is wonderful, and I don't necessarily blame him as he was a product of his times, but some things just go beyond.


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lagatta
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posted 29 January 2005 06:51 PM      Profile for lagatta     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
No, Coyote (hey, fellow carnivore!) because cats indeed do kill and eat mice (and toy with them...) and Tommy thought is was high time mice no longer voted for cats!

It isn't out of any lack of ferocity that cats would never make good Nazis - it is because you can't, as the saying goes, "herd cats". Cocteau famously said "J'aime les chats, parce qu'il n'y aura jamais de chats policiers".

I'm trying to find the lyrics to a song strikers sang here in the 1970s "Ils sont souris, nous sommes chats, et notre chasse est liberté"!

I have a friend, over 80 now, who was in the Resistance as a young man, in Normandy. He was invited to see a viewing of the planches from Maus at a Jewish arts festival in Paris and refused to go out of cat solidarity, though he had sheltered Jewish refugees at their maquis, on their way out of France.

It is always very difficult dealing with works of literary value that contain heinous stereotypes. I don't know whether or not to go see the Merchant of Venice film, though the cast looks good. As with the horrid Mel Gibson film about the crucifixion, I'm more afraid of what the reaction will be in places where violent anti-semitism is making a comeback, such as certain Eastern European countries.


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jeff house
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posted 29 January 2005 08:53 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I read B. Farber's article in the Toronto Star the morning after I had seen the show. I think he did a good job of crystalizing the dangers inherent in the play, while accepting that it is worth studying in a mature way.

But Lagatta is right that the most negative effect of the movie will occur in the more benighted places, where any fodder for anti-Jewish stereotyping is welcomed.

The most disturbing thing to me was not the stereotype, though, but the way Shylock is demeaned and humiliated at the end; they treat him like a vile rodent.


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Michelle
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posted 29 January 2005 09:27 PM      Profile for Michelle   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I agree with Farber's article.

I notice he mentioned that some people learn MOV as early as grade ten. I'm pretty sure that at my school we did it in grade nine.

Like Coyote, I wouldn't pay to see it, and I wouldn't perform in it, either. And frankly, I don't really see why it's taught in high schools. How many plays did Shakespeare write? A lot more than four or five, which is how many school years there are in high school. Considering that one Shakespeare play per year is generally covered in high school, I don't see why they have to choose one that reeks of anti-Semitism.


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aka Mycroft
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posted 29 January 2005 09:42 PM      Profile for aka Mycroft     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by lagatta:

Mycroft, I'll read "Fagin", though I'll never forgive Al Spiegelmann for depicting Nazis as cats! Cat Nazis, indeed.


Well, they're *bad* cats.

Guess you weren't much of a Mighty Mouse fan either? (The 1980s Ralph Bakshi version had Mighty Mouse as a factory worker, along with all the other mice, while the cats were all capitalists).

[ 29 January 2005: Message edited by: aka Mycroft ]


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aka Mycroft
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posted 29 January 2005 09:47 PM      Profile for aka Mycroft     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Michelle:
I don't really see why it's taught in high schools. How many plays did Shakespeare write? A lot more than four or five, which is how many school years there are in high school. Considering that one Shakespeare play per year is generally covered in high school, I don't see why they have to choose one that reeks of anti-Semitism.

In my schooling I had Twelfth Night (we didn't do Merchant of Venice at my school in Scarborough), Romeo and Juliet, Richard III, MacBeth and Hamlet.

[ 29 January 2005: Message edited by: aka Mycroft ]


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catje
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posted 29 January 2005 10:28 PM      Profile for catje     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Hamlet, MacBeth, King Lear, Twelfth Night, and the Tempest. But MOV might have been a good way to start exploring historical anti-semitism. I remember being in highschool and wondering why on earth it existed at all. Sure, we all knew it was wrong, but most of us were pretty fuzzy on how it had come about, and how it had continued through the centuries. Important lessons there.
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Agent 204
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posted 30 January 2005 12:29 AM      Profile for Agent 204   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I studied Twelfth Night, Macbeth, Hamlet, and As You Like It. I can't say for sure, not being familiar with the play, but my inclination is to agree with Michelle about the inadvisability of using it in high school. Let people study it in university, where they'll be more likely to havea mature perspective... if it's taught well, at least.

[ 30 January 2005: Message edited by: Mike Keenan ]


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al-Qa'bong
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posted 30 January 2005 03:24 AM      Profile for al-Qa'bong   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
It isn't much of a revelation to point out that the Shylock character is problemmatic, and anyone who teaches The Merchant of Venice (or Oliver Twist and "The Prioress' Tale" for that matter) is likely to say as much to his or her students.

Perhaps Farber could turn his attention to less-acknowledged negative depictions of Semites and critique Cannon Films' characterizations of Arabs.


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lagatta
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posted 30 January 2005 09:59 AM      Profile for lagatta     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Quoting Al Q:
!Perhaps Farber could turn his attention to less-acknowledged negative depictions of Semites and critique Cannon Films' characterizations of Arabs".

I'm not familiar with Cannon Films - do they do those stupid "action movies"? As we recall, Jews, Arabs and non-Semites such as Turks and Persians were lumped together in many old literary works as scions of the exotic east, the Other. Sometimes menacing and evil, but at times bearing knowledge to benighted Christendom. One can think of the figure of Rebecca the Jewess, the doctoress in Ivanhoe. After all, the Pope's doctors were all Jews, making use of the Arab world's far superior medical science at the time, a point of contact between their contending "daughter" faiths.

There have been many good studies on the continued stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims in popular culture. The obvious character to look at in Shakespeare is Othello the Moor - (sigh) I wish I were in Venice...


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Michelle
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posted 30 January 2005 10:09 AM      Profile for Michelle   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by al-Qa'bong:
Perhaps Farber could turn his attention to less-acknowledged negative depictions of Semites and critique Cannon Films' characterizations of Arabs.

The article was about MOV because that was the movie that just came out, and he was likely asked to write about it, as a representative of an organization that combats anti-semitism. Why would he write about other movies in this instance?


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Macabee
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posted 30 January 2005 11:14 AM      Profile for Macabee     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Another view. This one by Richard Ouzanian the Star's theatre critic.

Ouzanian on Shylock


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rasmus
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posted 30 January 2005 01:40 PM      Profile for rasmus   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I liked Farber's article. I agree with him that if this text is to be studied, it should be in later years, with a lot of contextualization.

I haven't seen the movie -- the trailers certainly projected the effect they were trying for, namely to portray Shylock as a more sympathetic, tragic figure. And in the clips I saw, Al Pacino was doing a fantastic job. But all the articles have made the point that bears repeating: without completely rewriting this play, you can't take the anti-Semitism out of it, any more than you can take the anti-semitism out of Elizabethan England.


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bittersweet
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posted 30 January 2005 03:22 PM      Profile for bittersweet     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I recommend Greenblatt's sensitive reading of Merchant. An excerpt from the NYorker review:

quote:
A chapter of Greenblatt’s book is devoted to the horrible death of Ruy Lopez, the Queen’s physician, and its consequences for Shakespeare’s imagination of the “other.” Jewish by birth though not by faith, Lopez was found guilty of an attempt on the Queen’s life. (He was almost certainly framed.) When, on the scaffold, he cried plaintively that he “loved the Queen as well as he loved Jesus Christ,” the mob merely laughed at what they took to be an equivocation, before he was ripped apart.

Greenblatt conjectures that Shakespeare was there and was haunted by the laughter, and that “The Merchant of Venice” is in part a response to his shiver...

Shakespeare, in this view, was an instinctive liberal humanist, because, in a world of sharks, he could imagine what it felt like to be sharked, and knew how to bracket experience—to ask, What is it like for them?

Yet we also feel that the range of his sympathies is contoured by the inheritance of his world view. Shakespeare, the small landholder, believed in order, authority, and convention, and was scared to death of riots, mobs, spies, and revolutionary change...

His sympathy for Shylock, after all, is no different from his sympathy for Edgar in “King Lear,” or even for Richard III; a plausible villain should always have plausible-sounding motives. It will not do to make Shakespeare too energetic a participant in our own civic creed. We can, though, distinguish between the expression of a self-conscious “humanism” that was not yet fully available to him or to anyone in his time, and the instinctive expansion of human sympathy that is the natural consequence of trying to make all the parts in a play sound like real people. You can’t make “The Taming of the Shrew” into a feminist comedy, because it isn’t. But you can’t help making Katherine an attractive and articulate woman, because she is.



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skdadl
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posted 30 January 2005 05:24 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
bittersweet, do you remember who wrote the New Yorker review?

Greenblatt is causing quite the fuss among the (other) Shakespeare scholars, one gathers (and we're not going to be uncharitable enough to wonder whether the near-million-dollar advance has anything to do with that, are we ).

I've read only the (very long -- two full pages) extract from the NY Times Book Review, which is the passage about Marlowe, Lopez, and the Merchant. I would grant that he does an interesting sort of triangulation there, partly justified since Shakespeare certainly knew both Marlowe and his play, and couldn't not at least have known of Lopez's execution, although I found the imagining of Shakespeare actually standing in the mob more than a bit of a stretch.

There are ways of writing that kind of social history that don't cause people to roll their eyes quite so much. I mean, it is valuable to keep filling in the significant small details of everyone's historical context; the social historians I think of who do it best tend to ignore the "greats" entirely as they take us closer and closer to the worlds that those greats lived in. (Here I always drop Robert Darnton's name, great historian of C18 France who has taught us all so much -- about gossip, samizdat publishing, cat massacres, etc.)

But I must read the book. If it is a little reckless, it is at least provocative and highly readable at the same time, and I never mind people making a few gestures wild enough to wake the popular audience up again.

Re Ouzounian's review: A bit of pedantry:

quote:
But while it is true the Bard allows Shylock a momentary glimpse of humanity, he does the same for some of his most loathsome creations, such as Iago, Edmund and Richard III.

That is 66.67 per cent just plain wrong. One of the most famous essays about Iago refers to his "unmotivated evil," and Edmund would be the single other major villain to whom, I would say, Shakespeare gives not one redeeming line. Edgar, yes; Edmund, no. Shakespeare was not uninterested in pondering genuine evil, and the later, the more, I think. One sees that as well in the late comedies, Winter's Tale and The Tempest, which ends with that wonderfully acid response of Prospero's to Miranda's naive exclamation at seeing the utterly unredeemed villains. She says, "Oh brave new world, that has such creatures in't," and her dad mutters, "Tis new to thee."

Not bad for a retired guy, I think.

Anyway, I found Ouzounian's review a bit limp and loose if well intended; frankly, Bernie Farber's piece is better.

But I feel required to raise one last pedantic quibble with Farber as well. He begins his review with an epigraph from the play, a line spoken by the minor character Launcelot. And then he says, "These are the words that William Shakespeare uses to describe the shady Jewish moneylender, Shylock."

Well, those are the words that Shakespeare put into the mouth of a dramatized character. It is a bit sleight-of-hand to imply that any writer can be identified with the views that spill out of the mouth of any individual character, given that the essence of drama is the friction and juxtaposition of differentiated characters with one another.

That said, it is indeed always important to remember that one person wrote all those words. Characters are not people, with independent lives separate from the play; they are all threads in a continuous text.


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Catchfire
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posted 30 January 2005 08:23 PM      Profile for Catchfire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Though, skdadl, I would agree that Iago has no redeeming characteristics, I think you're mistaken about Edmund: In Iago, his reaction to being overlooked for promotion is beyond the audience's sympathy...not so for Edmund. First of all, he is ridiculed for his bastard-ness, even from his own father, and he does repent his sins at the end. Not to mention, when contrasted with Goneril and Regan, he certianly commands enough sympathy to put him in the not-quite-so-evil department with Shylock.

As early as the eighteenth century people began sympathizing en masse with Shylock. "The poor man is wronged" famously cried an englishwoman after seeing the play according to German critic Heine in the early nineteenth. And why not? Shylock, when he's stripped of the usurer stereotype who is proud of his faith, loves his daughter and late wife dearly, and is unjustly tormented by a hypocritical Christian society.

My problem with modern productions of the play is the tendancy to tone down the blatant racism in the play...all the Christians are guilty of it, , and Shakespeare roasts them for it. Portia's racist lines (ie "Let all of his complexion choose me so" of the Prince of Morocco) were left out of the new movie, for example. I guess if she is allowed intolerance, her famous "The quality of mercy is not strained" speech loses credibility.

The key to Merchant of Venice is the hypocrisy and intolerance...remember the line "Which is the merchant here, and which the Jew?" Even Portia cannot follow her own plea for mercy in the end. In my opinion, Merchant is the best comedy Shakespeare wrote, and depriving high school classrooms of its nuance is closed-minded. Of course, thoughtful readings of it are imperative...call the anti-Semitism what it is, but the play is much, much deeper than that.


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bittersweet
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posted 30 January 2005 08:42 PM      Profile for bittersweet     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Word, Catchfire.

skdadl, it was Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker. His positive review prompted me to read the book. I might not have read the book if I’d first read Colin Burrow's review in the London Review of Books. Burrows “teaches English at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, is the author of 'Epic Romances from Homer to Milton.' His edition of 'The Complete Sonnets and Poems' is published in the Oxford Shakespeare series." So he knows a thing or two about a thing or two.

His conclusion (ouch!):

quote:
What Greenblatt at one point in his career seemed well able to have provided is a cultural biography of Shakespeare, which would wean itself from the individuating anecdote, resist simple psychologising of the plays, break free of the constraints generated by the nature of the surviving evidence about Shakespeare’s financial transactions, and think instead about the chaos of interacting connections that might underlie Shakespeare’s work. Unfortunately, Will in the World is very much not that book.”
I like “the chaos of interacting connections” phrase. Looks like Greenblatt’s kind of chaos is not Burrow’s kind.

Being an autodidact, "Will in the World" is just the kind of book that I get perhaps naively excited about from time to time, that seems to breathe new life into history, and Great Works. However, this does really get me: strategically, right at the top, Burrows reminds us that
quote:
Greenblatt’s biography is, as I write, ranked 271 in Amazon’s UK sales list (41 in the US), while the Arden edition of King Lear is ranked 13,791 (309,493 in the US). People are a lot more likely to buy books about Shakespeare’s life than they are to buy books by Shakespeare.
Well, duh. You only really need to buy the plays once, and may read them over and over. Of course you'll thus end up buying many more books about them, and about their author. Morever, another explanation for the discrepancy in sales figures between the plays and books about the plays might be that since Shakespeare wrote plays, maybe the great unwashed are choosing to watch instead of read.

But those takes on reality wouldn't be convenient to Burrows' agenda. Given his obvious bit of innuendo, who is Burrows to accuse Greenblatt of the same? The comment has nothing to do with the worth of the book under review, and implies that readers of popular books about Shakespeare are rubes. Right off the top we are warned. Phew! Thanks, Colin! Don't want to be part of that club!

I love the "problem plays" best, as you and Catchfire seem to, and was therefore most affected by the chapters dealing with them. I'm also very fond of The Tempest, and Greenblatt's chapter relating the play to Shakespeare's growing sense of his own mortality was moving. Maybe I'm o'erthrown by his charming rhetoric and missing the reality, but so be it. I can accomodate lots of realities; it's not like anyone owns history.

So...here’s very pro
Gopnik
and here’s very con:
Burrows

[ 30 January 2005: Message edited by: bittersweet ]


From: land of the midnight lotus | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged
Bobolink
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posted 03 February 2005 10:24 PM      Profile for Bobolink   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Looks like the Scots are mad a Shakespeare now for defaming Macbeth: http://tinyurl.com/69b7k

Yes, Shylock is a villain, but Shakespeare shows that it is racism that made Shylock that way. To drive the point home, he introduces the Prince of Morocco who also has a problem with racism. Shylock's daughter Jessica is a good and virtuous person.

Racism does not always enoble people. Sometimes evil rubs off. Sidney Lumet's The Pawnbroker was made to illustrate this.

Was Shakespeare's Othello a play about the evil black or was it a play about how reaction to racism can destroy the noblest of men?

[ 03 February 2005: Message edited by: Bobolink ]


From: Stirling, ON | Registered: May 2004  |  IP: Logged
angrymonkey
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posted 15 February 2005 05:36 AM      Profile for angrymonkey     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Merchant Of Venice is one Shakespeare play I have not read or watched. I am a little curious about the Shylock portrayals. I see some productions that seek to create a sympathetic character. Most recently I watched a tv program with two actors doing their own interpretations of the Shylock character. I did not get the feeling that they thought he was a very sympathetic character- pitiable maybe. His famous speech-they thought that it was a mistake to play it for sympathy,that it was an attempt by the Shylock character to justify some evil actions.
I would have liked to have see some actors, writers and directors discuss the play and the character.

From: the cold | Registered: May 2004  |  IP: Logged
Contrarian
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posted 15 February 2005 01:08 PM      Profile for Contrarian     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
An article by Milton Kerker discusses Dickens, Fagin and Riah [a "good Jew" in Our Mutual Friend]. Kerker argues that Dickens did not actually know any Jews until 1860, and over time his writings became less Anti-Semitic. He did respond to criticism of the Fagin character; later editions of Oliver Twist referred to "Fagin" more and "the Jew" less; and he invented the character Riah, who was good but not realistic. English society in general was becoming less anti-Semitic; liberals were pushing "for legislation to lift the civil disabilities of Jews" though Dickens did not join in these activities.
Link here

Kerker's introduction points out:

quote:
...Fagin stands on the shoulders of a long literary tradition of Jewish villainy, including most notably the cutthroats of Chaucer's The Prioress's Tale; Barrabas, the super-monster of Marlowe's The Jew of Malta; and Shylock of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. Neither Chaucer, nor Marlowe, nor Shakespeare had ever met a Jew, for there were no Jews in England. Jews had been invited to England by William the Conqueror shortly after 1066 where they had led a sometimes tranquil, other times horrendous existence, but they were expelled in 1290 and proscribed from returning until unofficially invited back by Oliver Cromwell in 1664. Until then, and even much later, the Jew was an exotic abstraction to be vivified and vilified in the light of medieval legendry and folklore...

From: pretty far west | Registered: Jul 2004  |  IP: Logged
johnpauljones
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posted 15 February 2005 01:17 PM      Profile for johnpauljones     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
As AngryMonkey wrote above:
quote:
An article by Milton Kerker discusses Dickens, Fagin and Riah [a "good Jew" in Our Mutual Friend]. Kerker argues that Dickens did not actually know any Jews until 1860, and over time his writings became less Anti-Semitic.

The timing of 1860s is interesting because it was during this decade that Disraeli became Prime Minister. And although not a practising Jew he did lament often about being born Jewish.

I found this about Jewish MPs in the UK and Disraeli specifically:

quote:
In Parliament, several baptised Jews who were willing to swear the Christian oath took their seats in the House of Commons ...
The best known, and the most potent symbol, was Benjamin Disraeli, who became a member of Parliament in 1837 and rose to the top of British political life when he became Prime Minister in 1868.

Although he had been baptised into the Church of England, Disraeli was known to have been a Jew by birth, made no secret of his Jewish origins, and was frequently lampooned as a 'Hebrew'.



From: City of Toronto | Registered: Nov 2004  |  IP: Logged
skdadl
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posted 15 February 2005 01:29 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Thanks for all the continuing links, people.

Och, Bobolink -- I know! And all the Scots I know know too!

I mean, it is on the record: Macbeth brought Alba seventeen years of prosperity, tolerance, stability, etc etc etc, and in that period, seventeen years was a long time for anyone to rule.

Of course Shakespeare's play is partly Jacobean propaganda. And yet, as we all also know, it is sublime poetry, sublime psychology, for quite other reasons. I mean, it mainly doesn't matter, as long as we can get the word out about the real Macbeth at the same time.

And then there's the real Richard III. He has a whole society and a terrific mystery novel devoted to his cause (see Josephine Tey, The Daughter of Time).

bittersweet, the NYReview of Books excerpted the whole (I think) of Greenblatt's chapter on Hamlet last October. Just read it this weekend -- flat-out brilliant in places, although with those annoying little reconstructions in others. Will return with specific examples.


From: gone | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Briguy
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posted 15 February 2005 03:54 PM      Profile for Briguy     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Don't get me started on Shakespeare's attitude towards Wiccans!
From: No one is arguing that we should run the space program based on Physics 101. | Registered: Nov 2001  |  IP: Logged
Contrarian
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posted 15 February 2005 04:00 PM      Profile for Contrarian     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I was waiting for someone to speak up for Richard III.
There's another good mystery, by Elizabeth Peters, The Murders of Richard III which includes Ricardians arguing about his innocence; like all her books, it's fun, too.

From: pretty far west | Registered: Jul 2004  |  IP: Logged
skdadl
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posted 15 February 2005 04:07 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
The Toronto chapter of the Richard III Society runs a memorial notice honouring him every year -- I think on the anniversary of the battle of Bosworth Field? (22 August) -- in the Globe and Mail.
From: gone | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Tommy_Paine
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posted 15 February 2005 07:21 PM      Profile for Tommy_Paine     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
It's not like Shakespeare is being taught in elementary schools or Day Care. On top of that, it's not like Shakespeare or even Dickens are a students or anyone's only reference for Judiasm.

While there's little to dissagree with in Farber's article, I find it curious. What he asks for is already being done.

I remember studying "The Merchant of Venice"-- and we are going back about 30 years here-- and distinctly remember the class being aghast at the treatment of Shylock.

Some thought Shakespeare was being cleverly pro-sememtic, by going overboard on Shylock's punishment, and creating a sympathetic character. I had few doubts that Shakespeare was as anti-semetic as his times.

We see Shylock as a victim today. Elizabethans would have seen him as evil incarnate. The difference is that today we have a broader context for understanding not just Judaism, but issues of racism and intollerance in general.

The curious part about all this is why a play that is already being taught, as Farber suggests, to more mature students, currently garners such attention, while Mel Gibson's film, "The Passion", which not figuratively nor metaphorically, but very literally demonizes Jews gets a free pass.

Politics makes strange bedfellows.

[ 15 February 2005: Message edited by: Tommy_Paine ]


From: The Alley, Behind Montgomery's Tavern | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged
al-Qa'bong
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posted 15 February 2005 07:35 PM      Profile for al-Qa'bong   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Don't get me started on Shakespeare's attitude towards Wiccans!

No kidding. Why is he getting a free ride for calling women "weird sisters"?

quote:
I was waiting for someone to speak up for Richard III.

That foul abortive rooting hog is my favourite character in Shakespeare. He's so bad he's funny.


From: Saskatchistan | Registered: Feb 2003  |  IP: Logged
Contrarian
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posted 15 February 2005 08:25 PM      Profile for Contrarian     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Laurence Olivier was good in the movie; I haven't seen the Ian McKellan one.
From: pretty far west | Registered: Jul 2004  |  IP: Logged
Tommy_Paine
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posted 15 February 2005 08:34 PM      Profile for Tommy_Paine     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I think McKellan took the role on a hunch.
From: The Alley, Behind Montgomery's Tavern | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged
Willowdale Wizard
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posted 15 February 2005 08:43 PM      Profile for Willowdale Wizard   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Anyway, I found Ouzounian's review a bit limp and loose if well intended; frankly, Bernie Farber's piece is better.

it's a shame that farber, and not to single him out, other public intellectuals in canada, don't participate in babble.

it would be good to hear what he has to say on this matter.

[ 15 February 2005: Message edited by: Willowdale Wizard ]


From: england (hometown of toronto) | Registered: Jan 2003  |  IP: Logged
RED STATE REPUBLICAN
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posted 16 February 2005 03:53 PM      Profile for RED STATE REPUBLICAN        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 

[ 16 February 2005: Message edited by: Michelle ]


From: The United States of America | Registered: Feb 2005  |  IP: Logged
smcniven
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posted 16 February 2005 03:54 PM      Profile for smcniven     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 

[ 16 February 2005: Message edited by: smcniven ]


From: Ottawa | Registered: Mar 2002  |  IP: Logged
Rufus Polson
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posted 16 February 2005 06:34 PM      Profile for Rufus Polson     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Contrarian:
Laurence Olivier was good in the movie; I haven't seen the Ian McKellan one.

It's brilliant. Brilliant, I tell you!
He does it set in something like the thirties, and his takeover is full of Nazi imagery, and the bad guys all smoke, so there'll be this greasy, unhealthy smoke curling around the place, claustrophobically underlining the unhealthy nature of Richard and his regime. He doesn't actually play it with a hunch--more of a sag. One half of his body has this sort of stroke-victim thing going; apparently he novocained half his face. And yet his energy blows everyone else off the screen, even though lots of them are topnotch British actors.
I could rave about that movie for hours. I'd never heard of him when I saw it, and afterwards I was all like "Wow, that guy is the best! He's going places! You all have to see this--I don't care if you don't do Shakespeare!"


From: Caithnard College | Registered: Nov 2002  |  IP: Logged
Contrarian
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posted 16 February 2005 06:46 PM      Profile for Contrarian     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I'll have to get hold of it; he's such a good actor. For all you Shakespeare addicats, I just found this really cool site, while looking for W&S's "Rinse the Blood off My Toga": called Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare with good links, and copies of plays put on in Canada from 1848 to the present, Aboriginal adaptations, etc., etc. Worth a visit.

Edited except for "addicats" which is such a good Freudian typo that I think I will copyright it.

[ 16 February 2005: Message edited by: Contrarian ]


From: pretty far west | Registered: Jul 2004  |  IP: Logged
Cueball
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posted 16 February 2005 11:04 PM      Profile for Cueball   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
What about the Moore in Titus Andronicus?

quote:
AARON
O, why should wrath be mute, and fury dumb?
I am no baby, I, that with base prayers
I should repent the evils I have done:
Ten thousand worse than ever yet I did
Would I perform, if I might have my will;
If one good deed in all my life I did,
I do repent it from my very soul.


From: Out from under the bridge and out for a stroll | Registered: Dec 2003  |  IP: Logged
Contrarian
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posted 17 February 2005 01:46 AM      Profile for Contrarian     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Back to Shylock:

Tibor Egervari's play Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice in Auschwitz is

quote:
...an imaginative reconstruction of what it might have meant to stage Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice in Auschwitz with Shylock performed as "a Richard III: a 'truly evil' Shylock."...

quote:
...A further important context for understanding the play is that the Nazis backed at least "55 different productions of Merchant" with a "1943 Vienna premiere of the play turn[ing] into a chilling victory party as the Nazis celebrated the removal of the city's Jewish population" (see http://www.nfb.ca/f/communiques/archives/99-25.html). (For a fascinating documentary on the Shylock figure see the National Film Board of Canada's (NFB) film Shylock, directed by Pierre Lasry). Moreover, the issue of the play's anti-Semitism has long been a feature of discussions of the play within a Canadian context. As early as 1899, J. Clark Murray of the Philosophy Department at McGill University had published a paper in the April 1899 issue of the International Journal of Ethics entitled "The Merchant of Venice: as an Exponent of Industrial Ethics" (click here to see a full copy of the article archived in CASP's Essays and Documents section). And more recently, Canadian playwright Mark Leiren-Young has produced another version of Merchant entitled simply Shylock (1996) in which a Jewish actor finds himself attacked by his own community for portraying Shylock (click here for an extract from Leiren-Young's Shylock)...
A lot of links included.

From: pretty far west | Registered: Jul 2004  |  IP: Logged

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