Posts Tagged Shakespeare

The Greatest Antisemitic Play Ever Written

Al Pacino as an Unsympathetic Shylock

Al Pacino as Shylock

New York’s “Shakespeare in the Park” is offering a new production of The Merchant of Venice, starring Al Pacino. This news has reminded me of the first time I saw Shakespeare’s profoundly antisemitic play.  Not having read it beforehand, I came to the performance with fresh ears.  Jewish ears.

The Merchant of Venice is an Elizabethan comedy.  That means a complicated love story in which serious obstacles to love are presented and then overcome, and a happy ending is reached.  In this case, there are three pairs of would-be lovers interacting.  Their plans for happiness involve borrowing money.  The most important obstacle to their happiness is the play’s main character, Shylock.

Shylock is a rich Jewish moneylender who is owed money by a defaulting Christian debtor.   He is a monster motivated by hate and revenge.  His written loan agreement states that if the debtor can’t repay, then a pound of the guarrantor’s flesh is due.  Shylock gleefully intends to enforce this clause.  Although the dialog makes it clear that Shylock is a Jew, there isn’t anything Jewish left in his character except his memory of suffering.

Most productions show a local Jewish community in existence all around him, but those actors go about their business as usual.  Not one fellow Jew whacks Shylock on the head and says, “What are you crazy?”   No committee drags him off to a Rabbi for correction.  It’s surreal. Read the rest of this entry »

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