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A Classic Anti-Semite? Try William Shakespeare
The Chicago Tribune ^ | January 30, 2005 | Ron Grossman

Posted on 01/30/2005 10:03:16 AM PST by quidnunc

Considering the furor kicked up by "The Passion of the Christ," a newly filmed version of "The Merchant of Venice" recently slipped into multiplexes with remarkably little fuss.

For months before the opening of Mel Gibson's movie, pundits (including this writer) wrung their hands in print. Jewish groups decried, sight unseen, an age-old stereotyping of their people as bloodthirsty Christ killers.

The dramatic engine of "The Merchant of Venice" is the Shylock character, a money-grubbing Jew fixated on literally having a pound of Christian flesh. Yet the movie has drawn respectful reviews, not picket lines, perhaps because it is easier to criticize Gibson than Shakespeare.

Gibson is a Hollywood actor. He is a self-advertised conservative Catholic.

But Shakespeare is the Bard. His poetic diction established the modern English language.

It is unsettling to think he also created as monstrous a word-portrait as can be found in the picture gallery of anti-Semitism.

Since high school, it has been drummed into us that Shakespeare understood the human psyche like no writer before or since. His Shylock, played to the hilt by Al Pacino in the new movie, continues to fascinate audiences 400 years after the character's creation.

Maybe that tells us something we would rather not know: That behind the civilized veneer we present to the world, even the most enlightened of us — Jew as well as gentile — still harbor the residue of ugly hatreds that sold theater tickets in Shakespeare's day.

Certainly, more apologies, excuses and convoluted explanations have been offered for "The Merchant of Venice" than any other literary work.


(Excerpt) Read more at ...

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; Extended News; United Kingdom
KEYWORDS: moviereview; shakespeare

1 posted on 01/30/2005 10:03:17 AM PST by quidnunc
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To: quidnunc

The "Jews" didn't kill Christ -- I did. They and the Romans just did the dirty work for the rest of us.

2 posted on 01/30/2005 10:09:38 AM PST by Always A Marine
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To: quidnunc

I don't know - it seems specious to judge those in the past by modern standards. For ex: Churchill was a chauvanist.

3 posted on 01/30/2005 10:12:58 AM PST by Fenris6 (3 Purple Hearts in 4 months w/o missing a day of work? He's either John Rambo or a Fraud)
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To: quidnunc
Having studied the play a few times--I can't argue that MoV is not antisemitic. It is.

On the other hand, I always found Shylock the most delightful of Shakespeare's creations--so vital, so alive, so passionate--as opposed to the prating Portia or the insipid Jessica (Shylock's daughter). Found myself rooting for the pound of flesh--thought the old fart had it coming.

So, I guess there are all kinds of ways to look at things...

4 posted on 01/30/2005 10:20:54 AM PST by Mamzelle
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To: Mamzelle
I haven't read the play since I had to for a class in high school, but I once ran across a book by a Jewish author (maybe a rabbi) in the 1930s (I don't recall the author's name) arguing that the play is not anti-Semitic. It could be argued that Shakespeare is presenting anti-Semitism as wrong, but I haven't studied the text to see if that can be supported.

Shylock calls the judge a second Daniel. That alludes to the story of Susannah and the elders, which the Reformers relegated to the Apocrypha (since it's not in the Hebrew Bible)...Shakespeare evidently could expect his audience to be familiar with it anyway.

5 posted on 01/30/2005 10:34:07 AM PST by Verginius Rufus
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To: Fenris6
Shakespeare wrote for the anti-semetic audience of his day, yet gave Shylock one of the greatest pleas for justice in all of literature. While his audiences may have found pleasure at Shylock's fall, Shakespeare did not make it easy for them to gloat

"I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?"
Jews are 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."

6 posted on 01/30/2005 10:40:38 AM PST by catonsville
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To: Verginius Rufus
"I hate him, for he is a Christian!" is one of Shylock's more memorable lines.

Shakespeare used a stock cliche (which he did for many of his plays) in Shylock-- but so did Walter Scott in "Ivanhoe" to very little criticism. Shylock is unforgettable and brilliant-- Othello and his Iago (can't stand Desdemona) are my other favorites from Shakespeare.

7 posted on 01/30/2005 10:46:28 AM PST by Mamzelle
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To: quidnunc

This movie has opened in out-of-the way places like Champaign, IL and Reno, NV, but not in St. Louis. I am NOT amused. Bad Sony Classics! Bad!

8 posted on 01/30/2005 11:02:10 AM PST by valkyrieanne (card-carrying South Park Republican)
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To: quidnunc
Along with Lincoln, I hear that Shakespeare was gay, too.
9 posted on 01/30/2005 11:04:10 AM PST by Psycho_Bunny (“I know a great deal about the Middle East because I’ve been raising Arabian horses" Patrick Swazey)
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To: catonsville

Shylock is by far the most memorable character in the play. Bassanio seems like an idle playboy and Portia a smart "Trust fund" woman, forced into an odd way of picking a husband. Having been obliged to study the play at school the lasting impression it made on me was that a group of the "in" crowd got Antonio off on a legal technicality. I thought Shylock's speech had much more "guts" to it than Portia's quality of Mercy speech.

10 posted on 01/30/2005 11:26:37 AM PST by Timocrat (I Emanate on your Auras and Penumbras Mr Blackmun)
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To: quidnunc
Shakespeare's characterization of Shylock was like the black-face of its day. It was a harmless caricature intended for humor based upon what were considered generally accepted prejudices. It is only in the light of today's PC "no one shall be offended" do we acknowledge that any such stereotypes are bad. Of course, it is still acceptable to portray nearly all middle-class white males as business thieves, rapists, child-abusers, etc. (today's law&order programs). Of course, we don't view those black-face type of caricatures as humorous as our ancestors and tend to equate it more with slapstick than anything else.

Shakespeare's caricature of Shylock was no more anti-Semitic than the portrayal of Jewish parents in modern-day America as seen in "Meet the Fockers." See Rabbi Lapin's commentary on the stereotyping:
11 posted on 01/30/2005 11:58:05 AM PST by Ghost of Philip Marlowe (Liberals are blind. They are the dupes of Leftists who know exactly what they're doing.)
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To: quidnunc

Jesus and His apostles were Jews. So was Karl Marx. But Marx's resemblance to Judaism ends at the end of his circumcised priapus. His atheistic "Jewishness" merely means that he was nothing more than a circumcised heathen.

12 posted on 01/30/2005 12:13:52 PM PST by kiriath_jearim
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Comment #13 Removed by Moderator

To: Always A Marine
The Jews saw Jesus as a gadfly at best, and so they betrayed him to Roman authorities, who would brook no itinerant preacher's claim to the throne of Caesar. In a word, both parties did as they saw fit. There was little insight into the subplots and historical shadings at play by either group. There were probably dozens of claimants to the Son of Man who were killed in the same manner, by the same players. I am not trying to be funny or sarcastic. To blame Jews for the death of Christ is as logical as blaming Greeks for killing Socrates. Shakespeare, on the other hand, was a great artist who wrote plays that didn't necessarily reflect his belief in the good of man as a group or as an individual. If Shakespeare were an essayist, we'd have a clearer picture of his feelings toward the Chosen. Again, I do not strive for sarcasm.
14 posted on 01/30/2005 12:39:57 PM PST by ashtanga
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To: kiriath_jearim
Karl Marx was a rabidly antisemitic. See Paul Johnson's "Intellectuals."
15 posted on 01/30/2005 12:42:06 PM PST by ashtanga
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To: quidnunc
"It is unsettling to think he also created as monstrous a word-portrait as can be found in the picture gallery of anti-Semitism."

To this writer_STFU- the US has been the greatest home the wandering diaspora ever have had.

Crying wolf again but then again this has been Holocaust week.

16 posted on 01/30/2005 12:47:57 PM PST by Helms
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To: ashtanga
The vast majority of the Jews who were alive at that time had no role whatever in handing Jesus over to Pilate, only a handful of the leaders and their rent-a-mob, and the procedure by which Jesus was condemned by the council seems to have been highly irregular.

In Socrates' case, he wasn't condemned by "the Greeks" but only by the Athenians, but he got a fair trial by Athenian standards, and if he had proposed exile as an alternative to the death penalty, probably would have been exiled rather than executed.

17 posted on 01/30/2005 4:28:28 PM PST by Verginius Rufus
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