Shylock in 2011
Thanks for your wonderful answers for the blog. I wonder if we can dive into this a bit more… I am going to also bring Murray in on this question to hear his thoughts:
Can one ignore stereotypes and just accept the fact that Shylock is mean AND Jewish? In other words, do we need to feel bad that we are presenting a stereotypical Jew? If so, is it because 20th century history just too fraught with Jewish tragedy to even go there? After all, theatre is filled with delicious, stereotypical characters. Othello is loaded with racism. Edward II chronicles the homosexual king in enormously problematic ways. But Merchant is more touchy for modern audiences. Why is that?
Murray, how does a director approach these difficult topics? How do you handle the fifth act?
Chris, could you elaborate on the “good” in Shylock?
Thanks and Happy 4th!!
Well I just don't think that any post-Holocaust audience can look at ANY artistic depiction of Jews in the same way. It informs every audience. I think that for the quietly (or not so quietly) anti-semitic person, Shylock may well represent a kind of "I told you so; they're all alike" justification for sweeping hatred. For the great majority of folks, there may be just a twinge of guilt in accepting that a Jew can, indeed, take on the same weaknesses as non-Jews. I think that for many, young theater-goers, the stereotypes, particularly regarding money, that older people do associate with Jews, may be lost altogether.
The "good" in Shylock? Well, I know that he's been played as an absolutely rotten father, mean to Jessica and even, in a couple of productions, slapping her. At this point, without the wisdom that Murray will most certainly provide (!!!), I don't go for this. I want him a concerned father; a loving father--after all, she's all he has left following the death of his wife and even the departure of his servant, whom he likes ("The patch is kind enough...") but makes a big show of not caring about his departure. But the truth is that the "household" without the servant is down to two: Shylock and his daughter. He's not a good father all the time and his "I wish she were dead" moment is, let's not forget, immediately followed with "No news from them?" which contradicts his apparent indifference. I like that Shylock shares with Jessica his reservations about going out to dine with the "enemy" that evening. He knows something's up, but shares his vague apprehensions with his daughter. Very human. I like it that he tries (ineffectively and, for a young person, probably irritatingly) to shield her from Christian contamination when he hears that revelry, complete with masks, will be taking place under his windows. He's protective here, both for her and for himself and his own reputation among his Jewish peers ("Let not the sounds of shallow foppery enter my sober house.") It's like the father who tries to tell his kid what rock stations she shouldn't listen to--bound to be touchingly ineffective.
I like it that he appears to be a careful, thoughtful businessman, weighing the risk before jumping in to sign a seemingly lucrative deal. "I will be assured that I may, and that I may be assured, I will bethink me," he says. Like "hey, don't rush me here, I have to think it over." "I like it that Shylock cares more about his oath than money. "...I have sworn an oath that I shall have my bond," and when offered thrice the amount of the original contract, says that, in effect, they can't buy him off. I like it that he has "made it" in an alien world and, until he finally breaks with the number and intensity of insults, has managed to "bear it with a patient shrug," and carry on. Not easy.
I like it that he has, apparently, recommended his own servant for a job with Bassanio--a step up for the young "Patch" as he calls him, and one that will cost him, for he will be bereft of the man's services. It's a selfless thing to do and he makes light of it, citing all of the man's "weaknesses" although they don't amount to much. "I'm just as happy without the lazy bum," seems to be his attitude but we don't believe this posturing for a minute.
And finally, one cannot really "like him" for his snapping so completely and for his blood-lust for Antoinio's pound of flesh. And I don't defend him here at all. But one can certainly understand the strain that has built up to this point of madness.