Eretz Yisrael Time

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Monday, March 03, 2008
Ha'aretz is reporting that some Jewish UK students are boycotting a standardized test over the inclusion of Shakespeare, whom they claim was an anti-Semite.

Someone slap these kids upside the head. Please.

First of all, there is a good chance that Shakespeare never even met a Jew, as Jews weren’t allowed to live in England while Shakespeare was alive (unless you count those that claim the British Royal Family are descendents of King David – God Forbid).

Second, as I read the Merchant of Venice I see a completely different picture. I see the way the goyim used to treat the Jews, and how one Jew, finding himself being cheated, goes to extreme measures and stands up for himself and for what is right, and ultimately finds himself suffering from the anti-Semitism that was prevalent in the time and place of the culture portrayed.

If the following isn’t the best portrayal of a demand for human, equal and fair treatment for Jews, then I don’t know what is.

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?

Are these the words of an anti-Semite?


Anonymous said...

English society in the Elizabethan era has been described as anti-Semitic. Jews were often presented on the Elizabethan stage in hideous caricature, with hooked noses and bright red wigs, and were usually depicted as avaricious usurers (usance of interest), evil, deceptive, and greedy.

Just from a 2 second glance from the Merchant of Venice, it fits the above anti-Semitic description.

Shylock (rich Jew) says aside after Signior Antonio enters: “How like a fawning publican he looks!
I hate him for he is a Christian!
But more, for that, in low simplicity,
He lends out money gratis, and brings down
The rate of usance here with us in Venice.
If I can catch him once upon the hip,
I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him.
He hates our sacred nation; and he rails,
Even there where merchants most do congregate,
On me, my bargains, and my well-won thrift,
Which he calls interest. Cursed be my tribe,
If I forgive him!

JoeSettler said...

Most societies went through their anti-Semitic phase (just as many had philo-Semitic phase).

I believe Shakespeare was stereotyping the typical beliefs and attitudes at the time with the monologue you mentioned.

An anti-Semite could not and would not have written the one I mentioned.

JoeSettler said...

Besides, any anti-Semitic sentiment would have been based on Church stereotypes and stories, as no Jews had lived (or practically visited) England for 2-300 years.

K. Shoshana said...

I read the Merchant of Venice in grade 9 and the one thing I could never really get my head around was why it was classified as a comedy as I never saw anything remotely humorous in it.

A few years ago my own daughter had to study it in school. After she read the book, we went to one of that artsy type movie theater’s which was showing Al Pacino version of the Merchant of Venice.

I was surprised to see how darkly it was played, and by the end, I was crying watching Shylock receive the so-called Christian mercy which stripped him even of his community and then his G-d.

The daughter started to tear up earlier watching the daughter steal from her father and then laughing about it with her new found friends. It inspired the two of us to do some serious reading about life for European Jewry in the middle ages.

JoeSettler said...

I think Al Pacino's version was an incredible rendition, and clearly showed what Shakespeare was saying when he wrote about it.

Leora said...

My family discussed this business of the girls refusing to answer those questions. My husband's response: "those girls need to learn to pick their battles." And if there is a question about Henry Ford on a test, should someone refuse to answer that one?

Anonymous said...

Shakespeare born (1564) and died (1616).

The Elizabethan Era is the period associated with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558–1603).

In 1290, King Edward banished the Jews from England, and only a few remained behind either because they converted to Christianity or because they received special protection for the services that they had previously provided. The reason for this was because there were many superstitions and stereotypes going around about the Jews, and also because the Christians strongly detested the Jews. The Christians believed that the latter were devils and the anti – Christ, and this was the main reason why the Jews were hated. There were many actions that resulted from this idea: some tried to force the Jews to become Christian, while others tried to banish them from the country. On stage, Jews were portrayed as being clumsy, insolent, greedy, and were known to be poisoners, murderers and parasites. There was evidence of this, such as the play “The Merchant of Venice” which was written by Shakespeare. In this work, Shakespeare has depicted the Jew (Shylock) as the villain, who, after lending money to a Christian, demands a pound of the latter’s flesh. We can observe that Shakespeare is trying to show that Jews were usurers and cruel back then.

During the time of Shakespeare (around the sixteenth century), Jews were known to be extremely hated. There came a point when King Louis XIII decreed that all Jews were to leave the country on pain of death.

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