The following is my response to:
“The Merchant of Venice’ perpetuates vile stereotypes of Jews. So why do we still produce it?,” by Steve Frank, The Washington Post, July 28, 2016
— Roger W. Smith
Guess what? I don’t agree with the benighted author of this article.
I had lunch on Tuesday, July 26 with an emeritus professor with whom I have become friends due to common interests.
I think he may be Jewish, am not sure. His wife is Jewish and is very active in advocacy of Jewish causes.
He is an opera lover. One of his favorites is Wagner. He told me that he can’t get it out of his mind what a horrible person Wagner was in so many respects.
But he continues to listen to the operas, loves and admires them.
Sorry. You don’t ban Shakespeare.
You do not ban the poet and playwright who wrote such memorable lines as:
The pound of flesh which I demand of him
Is deerely bought, ’tis mine, and I will haue it.
The playwright who coined more words and phrases in our language than any other.
The peerless writer who cannot and will never be equaled in the realm of English literature.
The writer who, in the view of one eminent citric, Harold Bloom, “not only invented the [modern] English language, but also created human nature as we know it today.”
Prejudices and anti-Semitism notwithstanding, Shylock is a memorable character. It was Shakespeare who created him. Shakespeare, to whom we owe gratitude and reverence, notwithstanding what may have been his views.
We don’t approve, are horrified when fanatical Islamists destroy holy shrines on the grounds of enforcing their view of religious purity.
Shakespeare is an icon whose works must not be censored.
— Roger W. Smith
“The Merchant of Venice” is currently playing at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.
Some other comments (responses to the op ed) published on the Washington Post website include the following, with which I agree.
Let’s see: “Taming of the Shrew” for sexism, “Othello” for disparaging people of color/foreigners, all the history plays for rampant historical inaccuracy, “Romeo and Juliet” for romanticizing teenage suicide…. And that’s just for starters and just Shakespeare.
Well, gee, let’s just not produce anything set in any controversial time and portray it accurately. If we’re going to start assuming that people are, or have to remain, so ignorant of what they are seeing as to not be able to realize that the way people are speaking to each other is a historical bias and not a present-day way of speaking… then why bother teaching history or literature at all? If we’re going to start suggesting that by using the correct wording to portray how people spoke to each other at the time, that we’re creating hate… then you might as well start digging a really big pit to burn all the books and movies in because people have actually been trying to be more and more historically accurate over the years (the fools!).
It’s a play. It isn’t a documentary.
The author [Frank] seems in favor of the idea that the past should be judged purely by today’s standards and not in context. Maybe he should come up with a politically correct version of the Bible for example? Should be about half the size of any other Bible.
Why tilt at this little windmill when the mother ship of anti-Semitism is all around us? Read the Gospel of Matthew in the Bible and the Jews demanding that Jesus be killed and accepting the resulting curse on them and their children. That is obviously written by someone who was in a conflict with the then-current Jewish leadership, and was designed to stir animosity rather than to accurately portray events. Then there’s all the stuff about Pharisees. The Bible has surely been responsible for a heck of a lot more anti-Semitism than Shakespeare.
“The Merchant of Venice” does not perpetuate any stereotype of Jews. Audiences don’t stream out with hatred of Jews ignited in them nor even the seeds of hatred planted in their minds. Those few in the audience who are already anti-Semitic — and they are few in modern English speaking societies — are not going to get any more stoked up in their anti-Semitism. Those who are not, the majority, will simply enjoy a work by the greatest dramatist and poet of our culture with all its intricacies and observations about human nature.
Banning the play, simply to ameliorate the discomfort of those who would ban all discomforting speech on PC grounds, is to perpetuate intolerance for real. Watching the play is the lesser evil, by far.
“Merchant” is the latest casualty of that creeping disease called political correctness, which is busily tearing up the U.S. Constitution’s free-speech guarantee. We still have free speech — unless, of course, it offends somebody.