View Poll Results: Is the Merchant of Venice anti-Semitic?

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Thread: Is The Merchant of Venice anti-Semitic?

  1. #91
    The play is anti-semitic, but this is not the same as saying that Shakespeare is a racist or that this anti-semitism makes the play bad. Shylock is the stock Evil Jew character- Shakespeare gives him a humanity but the characterisation is still based on racial stereotypes. Jessica rejects her Jewishness and so becomes a heroine.

  2. #92
    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kelby_lake View Post
    TJessica rejects her Jewishness and so becomes a heroine.
    Does she? I'm not trying to be contrary for the sake of being contrary, but there are few points.

    She is presented as being inferior to Portia, at least Lorenzo seems to think more of Portia than he does Jessica (cf. III.v).

    Although joking, Launcelot highlights the "problem" with Jessica's conversion, which speaks to the wider social issue of Jews converting to Christianity at the time (for safety or profit). Is Jessica meant to be seen in this light? Taking a place that should belong to a "real Christian?"

    And then there is the bizarre "on such a night as this speech" which I can't help but think shows some unspoken problem that exists between Jessica and Lorenzo - unlike the "pure Christian couples" which tie up nicely, Lorenzo and Jessica have an undercurrent of tragedy about them....but as I head, I really don't know what to make of that scene.
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

  3. #93
    The puddytat you saw Hawkman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Charles Darnay View Post
    Although joking, Launcelot highlights the "problem" with Jessica's conversion, which speaks to the wider social issue of Jews converting to Christianity at the time (for safety or profit). Is Jessica meant to be seen in this light? Taking a place that should belong to a "real Christian?"

    And then there is the bizarre "on such a night as this speech" which I can't help but think shows some unspoken problem that exists between Jessica and Lorenzo - unlike the "pure Christian couples" which tie up nicely, Lorenzo and Jessica have an undercurrent of tragedy about them....but as I head, I really don't know what to make of that scene.
    Both these points are well observed. Shakespeare is indicating how conversos would be received within the wider Christian community in a subtle and non-confrontational way. How much worse for Shylock, whom nobody likes... The second also highlights the problems faced by couples from disparate cultural backgrounds. He doesn't say, "it can't work," rather he is saying, "if you want it to work you're going to have to put in some effort."

    I like your idea about Leah's Ring. I'd like to read it when you've finished it. However, I'm not sure that Shakespeare intended the ring to have the significance you speculate for it. If the ring had been given to Jessica by Shylock I'd be more inclined to support your premise as fitting within the context of the play.

    Live and be well - H
    Last edited by Hawkman; 04-16-2012 at 09:09 PM.
    Oh no, not again...

  4. #94
    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hawkman View Post
    However, I'm not sure that Shakespeare intended the ring to have the significance you speculate for it. If the ring had been given to Jessica by Shylock I'd be more inclined to support your premise as fitting within the context of the play.
    I'm fully willing to admit this, that I am probably stretching these lines a bit to fit my romantic vision, or the purposes of the story I am working on.

    However, when Shylock references the ring in relation to Leah (who I can only assume is his wife) - this is the only time he associates a person with a possession as opposed to a possession with a person. Such as: Jessica becomes the ducts she stole. Such as: Antonio becomes the pound of flesh owed. The ring is valuable, but there is a reason why he mentions that it is from Leah, as if there is actually a possession that carries sentimental and not just monetary value. And Jessica must have known that the ring was from her mother, and this should have had sentimental value for her, but it doesn't.
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

  5. #95
    Maybe YesNo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hawkman View Post
    The point I'm making is that the Christians are as morally flawed as Shylock, as was pointed out much earlier by another poster.
    Since Shylock relies on the "law", I would expect him to be morally superior to the Christians.

    Here is just one portrayal of Jesus as someone who does not obey the law either. The scorn for the Pharisees in Mark reminds me of the scorn for Shylock in the Merchant of Venice. In both cases, there is anticipation that the Pharisees will try to kill Jesus which matches the fear that Shylock will try to kill Antonio. (Mark 3:4-6 KJV):

    And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace.

    And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.

    And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.

  6. #96
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    Quote Originally Posted by Charles Darnay View Post
    To me, Leah's ring is the last thing Jessica gave away that she took from her father - is the last piece of her parentage - her Jewish parentage - that she parted with, thus completely renouncing her past. That she gave it away for a money shows just how little she cares about her past.
    I probably missed much of the parts with Leah's ring, but I did find this (Act 3, Sc 1):

    TUBAL: One of them showed me a ring that he had of your daughter for a monkey.
    SHYLOCK: Out upon her! Thou torturest me, Tubal. It was my turquoise! I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor. I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys.

    Is there some other place where this ring is mentioned?

  7. #97
    The puddytat you saw Hawkman's Avatar
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    Not in the play...

    I am indebted to qimissung for drawing my attention to this:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/12/ma...=all&position=

    I wish I'd written it
    Oh no, not again...

  8. #98
    Quote Originally Posted by Charles Darnay View Post
    Does she? I'm not trying to be contrary for the sake of being contrary, but there are few points.

    She is presented as being inferior to Portia, at least Lorenzo seems to think more of Portia than he does Jessica (cf. III.v).

    Although joking, Launcelot highlights the "problem" with Jessica's conversion, which speaks to the wider social issue of Jews converting to Christianity at the time (for safety or profit). Is Jessica meant to be seen in this light? Taking a place that should belong to a "real Christian?"

    And then there is the bizarre "on such a night as this speech" which I can't help but think shows some unspoken problem that exists between Jessica and Lorenzo - unlike the "pure Christian couples" which tie up nicely, Lorenzo and Jessica have an undercurrent of tragedy about them....but as I head, I really don't know what to make of that scene.
    She is still inferior I think but she is not an evil Jew. Her conversion, however problematic, makes her good.

  9. #99
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hawkman View Post
    Not in the play...

    I am indebted to qimissung for drawing my attention to this:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/12/ma...=all&position=

    I wish I'd written it
    I enjoyed reading the article, Hawkman. One of the things I am puzzled by is the apparently established view that the dialog between Tubal and Shylock is somehow "comic". Even Stephen Greenblatt hints that there may be a problem here when he writes in the article you cite:

    This is the stuff of comedy, and it is certainly possible to play the scene for laughs. ''The Merchant of Venice'' lends itself easily to vicious anti-Semitic stereotypes -- actors playing Shylock have worn red wigs and grotesque noses -- and Shakespearean comedy understandably continues to offend and upset many people who find it anything but funny.

    How do you "play the scene for laughs" given what happens to Shylock in the end unless the laughter originates from an underlying antisemitism?

    Now I enjoy comedy. My wife and I saw American Reunion last weekend and we both enjoyed it. We are even re-watching American Pie and American Wedding. One of the main characters, Jim, is Jewish and I find him particularly funny.

    But somehow this scene of Shylock with Tubal is not funny. Nor did I find it amusing in the DVD version of the play I recently watched. True, the stunts Portia and Nerissa performed had an element of amusement to them when the humor was directed at their husbands or suitors.

    But how is it that one can portray anything that happened to Shylock as funny without being antisemitic?
    Last edited by YesNo; 04-17-2012 at 11:45 AM.

  10. #100
    The puddytat you saw Hawkman's Avatar
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    That Shylock is hoping to be revenged on Antonio, each report that Antonio has suffered a loss and the loan will be defaulted on gives Shylock a boost. Each time he hears something about his missing daughter he is depressed. Comedy works by contrasts and comparisons.

    It should be noted that Shylock bemoans the loss of his Daughter first, then his ducats.

    Of course, how the play or any of its scenes are performed will colour perception, as will dressing Shylock up as a devil, but if, after having read the entire article, you still think the play or it's author are anti-Semitic, nothing anybody says to you is going to change your mind.

    I'm withrawing from this discussion now as it's been rather flogged to death.

    Live and be well - H
    Last edited by Hawkman; 04-17-2012 at 12:24 PM.
    Oh no, not again...

  11. #101
    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by YesNo View Post
    I enjoyed reading the article, Hawkman. One of the things I am puzzled by is the apparently established view that the dialog between Tubal and Shylock is somehow "comic".

    But how is it that one can portray anything that happened to Shylock as funny without being antisemitic?
    This conversation in III.i can be (I have seen it) played very comically. Shylock's rapid transitions for grief to joy and Tubal seemingly toying with him is quite funny.
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

  12. #102
    Registered User mona amon's Avatar
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    Read this play yesterday for the first time, just to see if it was anti-semitic or not. So much for the question itself being boring or useless. I voted not anti-semitic.

    How do you "play the scene for laughs" given what happens to Shylock in the end unless the laughter originates from an underlying antisemitism? - YesNo
    It's difficult to explain why one finds something funny, but I did laugh at the "'My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter! Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats!" Especially the "Christian ducats". It was the only thing in the whole play I actually found funny. There's nothing that gets outdated more than comedy.

    I wasn't laughing at Shylock because he is a Jew, but because he's a despicable character who gets paid back, and the way he reacts is comical, showing he's a lot more concerned about his ducats than his daughter. If the play is performed, it will depend a lot on how clownishly the actor playing Salanio is able to mimic Shylock's ranting and raving. And there's pathos there also. Almost all well drawn despicable characters have a suggestion of tragedy about them.
    Last edited by mona amon; 04-18-2012 at 12:43 AM.
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  13. #103
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    Quote Originally Posted by Charles Darnay View Post
    This conversation in III.i can be (I have seen it) played very comically. Shylock's rapid transitions for grief to joy and Tubal seemingly toying with him is quite funny.
    I just re-read that portion and I don't see the humor in the text, but I think I know why. The reason I don't see the scene as funny is because I don't care enough about Shylock to find his losses interesting. Shakespeare assumed I would find Shylock worthy of hatred without having to prepare me in any way to gloat over his misery.

    Have you seen Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds? http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0361748/

    Do you remember the part at the end when Brad Pitt carves the swastika on the turncoat Nazi's forehead after killing the driver? I can see that scene as "funny" or at least as a release of righteous indignation which some people might experience as humor. But neither Tarantino nor Shakespeare are funny in the way American Reunion is funny. That kind of funny does not require hatred.

    Shakespeare reminds me a lot of Tarantino. The revenge plots of Kill Bill and Titus Andronicus seem motivated to provide the audience with the same buildup and release of righteous anger. And if there are any good guys who survive the plays or movies these guys write, one could call them comedies.
    Last edited by YesNo; 04-18-2012 at 01:15 AM.

  14. #104
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    Quote Originally Posted by mona amon View Post
    It's difficult to explain why one finds something funny, but I did laugh at the "'My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter! Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats!" Especially the "Christian ducats". It was the only thing in the whole play I actually found funny. There's nothing that gets outdated more than comedy.
    You didn't find the mock cuckold scene that Portia and Nerissa played on their husbands funny?! (Act 5, Sc 1)

    PORTIA
    Then you shall be his surety. Give him this.
    And bid him keep it better than the other.
    ANTONIO
    Here, Lord Bassanio, swear to keep this ring.
    BASSANIO:
    By heaven, it is the same I gave the doctor!
    PORTIA
    I had it of him. Pardon me, Bassanio,
    For by this ring, the doctor lay with me.

  15. #105
    Quote Originally Posted by mona amon View Post
    I wasn't laughing at Shylock because he is a Jew, but because he's a despicable character who gets paid back, and the way he reacts is comical, showing he's a lot more concerned about his ducats than his daughter.
    You might not have been laughing at him because he is a Jew but his obsession with money is a typical Jewish stereotype, and Shakespeare's audience would be aware of this, hence why they found it amusing. Modern day audiences may not associate the stereotype with anti-semitism but Shakespeare is playing on racial stereotypes for laughs. I'm not saying that this makes him a bad playwright or makes the play bad- all comic writers play on one stereotype or another- but Shylock's race is inextricably linked to his greediness.

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