Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Shakespeare on Trial: Is the Bard Good to the Jews?

Shylock, the world’s most despised moneylender, is once again sharpening his knife in a new production of The Merchant of Venice. Do we need this, during a summer when the Jewish People have enough problems on their plate? Or can a case be made for the Bard of Avon and his troubling play?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

William Shakespeare, the Elizabethan poet and dramatist, is considered by most people to be the greatest playwright of all time. Although it’s true that not everything that he wrote was a masterpiece — his career spanned about a quarter of a century and he wrote at least thirty-seven plays, 154 sonnets, and two narrative poems — at his worst the Bard of Avon, as he is often called, is still equal to, if not better than, his contemporaries. At his most problematic, he is more entertaining and thought-provoking than the vast majority of dramatists who have set pen to page.

And therein lies the rub. Because the same Shakespeare who gave the world the brooding Hamlet and the tragic King Lear also gave the world a Jew named Shylock — and this portrayal of the Jew as an uber usurer who won’t stop even at murder to take his revenge still haunts us, Jew and non-Jew alike.

And therein lies another rub. Because even though the plot of The Merchant of Venice is a shaky structure cobbled together from several ill-fitting sources, the play is still one of Shakespeare’s most popular. Every year “Shylock, a Jew” makes his ghastly appearance in classrooms around the globe. Every year some actor somewhere is sharpening his knife, on stage, in preparation for receiving his “pound of flesh.”

This summer one of those stages is located in the bustling city of New York, where the New York Shakespeare Festival has mounted a new production of the play starring the Hollywood actor Al Pacino in the role of Shylock. Mr. Pacino, who visited a chassidic shul in Boro Park as part of his preparation for the role, has received generally glowing reviews.

But do we need this “praise”? In a summer where the world is demanding an international investigation into Israel’s conduct during the Gaza-bound flotilla raid, and where a United States court has sentenced Sholom Rubashkin to a twenty-seven-year prison term that even many non-Jewish lawyers and law professors believe is too severe, do we really need to see the spectacle of another Jew — albeit a literary figure — hauled before a court and demonized?

Should we not, instead, insist upon an international investigation into the harm inflicted on the Jewish People by Mr. William Shakespeare? And, if he is found guilty, should we not insist upon a stiff prison sentence, preferably in solitary confinement, for his play The Merchant of Venice and the play’s villain, Shylock? Mishpacha recently interviewed a few expert witnesses, to see if we have a case.


To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or sign up for a weekly subscription.

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

The Fortunes of War
Rabbi Moshe Grylak We’re still feeling the fallout of the First World War
Some Lessons, But Few Portents
Yonoson Rosenblum What the midterms tell us about 2020
Vote of Confidence
Eyan Kobre Why I tuned in to the liberal radio station
5 out of 10
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Top 5 Moments of the Kinus
Day in the Life
Rachel Bachrach Chaim White of KC Kosher Co-op
When Less is More
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman How a good edit enhances a manuscript
It’s My Job
Jacob L. Freedman “Will you force me to take meds?”
They’re Still Playing My Song?
Riki Goldstein Yitzy Bald’s Yerav Na
Yisroel Werdyger Can’t Stop Singing
Riki Goldstein Ahrele Samet’s Loi Luni
Double Chords of Hope
Riki Goldstein You never know how far your music can go
Will Dedi Have the Last Laugh?
Dovid N. Golding Dedi and Ding go way back
Battle of the Budge
Faigy Peritzman Using stubbornness to grow in ruchniyus
The Challenging Child
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Strategies for raising the difficult child
Bucking the Trend
Sara Eisemann If I skip sem, will I get a good shidduch?
The Musician: Part 1
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer "If she can't read she'll be handicapped for life!"