Featured Post

Film review: Danton outgrosses Robespierre

Preface: As I've said, oldie writing will be dusted off and plunked blogside (at least at first; new stuff should gradually overtake i...

Sunday, July 28, 2013

So, is Shakespeare an anti-semite or what?

This essay was sparked by a Friday letter to National Post by a theatre professor, uttering the oddest assertion--that Shakespeare bestows no mercy upon Shylock in Merchant of Venice. But also Margaret Atwood's supremely hesitant fudging on the subject in her Payback lectures. And a book-reviewer in the Globe and Mail a few years back who called Shakespeare an "extreme anti-semite" if memory serves--this despite the fact that it was in the Globe and Mail back in the 80s that I read my first thoroughly-reasoned defense of the Merchant of Venice as being not anti-semitic. But really, who does research before filibustering nowadays?
    So, was Shakespeare anti-semitic? And is Merchant of Venice Exhibit A of the evidence?
    You would think that after 400+ years all this would be a settled question. Nope. You'd be surprised how little has actually been settled regarding any aspect of the Bard, despite ample time for scholarly tie-downs. A joke I overheard in academe nicely summarizes the situation: "All Shakespeare plays are now problem-plays."
    Perhaps the joke is a puzzler to anyone with the usual smattering of high-school Shakespeare. What the joke riffs upon is the professorial invention and maintenance of a group of Shakespeare plays that don't seem to follow the dramatic rules--Measure for Measure, Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida and a few others--but whose strange qualities are perhaps more in the eye of the beholder than within the plays themselves. The professors themselves argue about which plays to categorize as problematic, and a few rebels in the prof-gang even denounce the problem-designation as fuzzy, useless and overdue for a trashing
    So. Let's grab Merchant of Venice with our heavy-duty tongs and have some fun with racism versus anti-racism, possibly the most idiotic dialectic on the planet...

(another mere starter; stay tuned)