David Hirsh On The Merchant Of Venice And Habima

Over at Engage, David Hirsh has scrutinized, picked apart and provided informed cultural analysis on Shakespeare’s Merchant Of Venice within the context of Habima, and some decidedly non-Shakespearean bigots

“When I see a production of the Merchant of Venice, it is always the audience which unsettles me. The play tells two stories which relate to each other. One is the story of Shylock, a Jewish money lender who is spat on, excluded, beaten up, and in the end mercilessly defeated and humiliated. The other is an apparently light-hearted story about an arrogant, rich, self-absorbed young woman, clever but not wise, pretty but not beautiful, and her antisemitic friends. Shakespeare inter-cuts the grueling detailed scenes of the bullying of Shylock, with the comedic story of Portia’s love-match with a loser who has already frittered away his large inheritance.

Shakespeare offers us an intimately observed depiction of antisemitic abuse, and each time the story reaches a new climax of horribleness, he then offers hackneyed and clichéd gags, to see if he can make us laugh. It is as if he is interested in finding out how quickly the audience forgets Shylock, off stage, and his tragedy. And the answer, in every production I’ve ever seen, is that the audience is happy and laughing at second rate clowning, within seconds. And I suspect that Shakespeare means the clowning and the love story to be second rate. He is doing something more interesting than entertaining us. He is playing with our emotions in order to show us something, to make us feel something.”

Laurie Penny, The Indy And Racism.

Posting this before I forget.

Laurie Penny reported from the AIPAC conference for the Independent.

A relatively easy job, not terribly controversial, AIPAC is one of the many political lobbies in America, which has hundreds, if not thousands of major lobbies.

The article in itself is not terribly enlightening, but the comments box oozing with racism towards Jews and offensive remarks is.

Years ago we would have been astonished to find a continuation of the 1930s racism.

Still, a sneering at Jews, peppered with repellent comments, is commonplace within the online vehicles of the British quality press.

You would be hard put not to find such wretched racism on a daily basis in this media.

Some of it is stark, others sly and full of innuendo, still more approximates to a genteel form of anti-Jewish racism, yet what is surprising, is that you won’t find the British quality press reporting on it.

No story there. Lest way not for the British intelligentsia.

As radical as Laurie Penny is, I doubt she will cover it either.

The Guardian’s Soft Racism and Deborah Orr

The Guardian newspaper is considered to be one of the quality periodicals in Britain, yet if you ever wanted to find the tell-tale smell of anti-Jewish racism then look no further.

Comment is Free, the Guardian’s on-line presence, is stuffed full of snide articles and remarks in the comments boxes that would not seem out of place in Far Right forums.

Even the home coming of Gilad Shalit was seen as another vehicle for expressing contempt for Jews, evidenced by Deborah Orr’s article with its disdainful conclusion.

Eve Garrard, over at Engage, pulls it apart with commendable logic:

“Things are different now, and this trope has been resurrected for the same old use: to denigrate Jews and stir up dislike, or worse, against them. In fact it’s very effective for that purpose: most people (very understandably) dislike anyone who claims to be inherently superior to everyone else; and so to attribute such a claim to Jews is a very economical way of making people dislike and distrust them. By referring to the Chosen People you can, without saying another word, tell your listener that Jews are an arrogant supercilious bunch who despise the rest of the human race, and that you yourself don’t much like that kind of thing; and indeed your listener (or reader, as the case may be) probably doesn’t much like that kind of thing either, being a decent honest person; and so you and she together can enjoyably agree that there’s something pretty obnoxious about Jews, or they wouldn’t be claiming to be ‘chosen’, would they, or insisting that one Jew is worth 1,000 other people, which of course they must believe, since Gilad Shalit was exchanged for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, and there’s no other possible explanation of that ratio, is there, eh?

All that hostile implication from just two well-chosen (so to speak) words, or even in Orr’s case one word alone – she writes with casual familiarity about ‘the chosen’, apparently assuming that her Guardian readers use the term so readily that no misunderstanding can arise from the informal contraction. This is indeed real economy of effort in the business of producing Jew-hatred. Orr herself may not, of course, have intended to stir up dislike of Jews; but the language which she chose to use did all the work that was needed for that unlovely task. “