Curators Jonathan Bate and Dora Thornton show us the world in which Shakespeare lived and wrote, and the kinds of things that would have inspired him. The show runs through November 25th.
The one part of the review that caught my attention was the reviewer's discussion of Shylock.
"Since the Jews had been expelled from England by Edward I in the late 13th century, it is possible that no Englishman, including Shakespeare, had encountered a professing Jew. But in London he would have seen Spanish or Portuguese Maranos [sic], forcibly converted Jewish immigrants (or their children) regarded with deep suspicion by the English."
I am very pleased that this reviewer does not argue that there were no Jews in Shakespeare's London. It surprises me how many people think that if the Jews were expelled, in 1290 to be precise, that there must have absolutely no Jews at all in all of England for centuries.
If you spend any time researching The Merchant of Venice, you will come across the Queen's physician Rodrigo Lopez, a hidden Jew, a Marrano, who may have been an inspiration for Shakespeare's play.
How could there have been no Jews in England if the Queen's own physician was Jewish?
It also stands to reason that if the law and the Church prohibited Christians from practicing usury, loaning money for profit, then how did any business survive all those centuries?
|One of my favorite paintings of Jessica|
Sir Samuel Luke Fildes, Jessica (1888)
Mr Dorment goes on to write:
"Shakespeare created Shylock, showing him not as an interloper in a foreign country but at home in the Venetian ghetto, surrounded by his daughter, servants, friends, and the golden ducats and weighing scales on display here [at the British Museum]. In this way, a stereotypical villain is transformed into believable human being. The play he then writes is about the nature of justice. Without minimising the evil Shylock does, Shakespeare asks his audience to decide what is fair and what is not, and whether the greater guilt belongs to the one who does wrong or the one who takes revenge on a wrong."
He makes a great point here. It is rare that I find anyone who talks about whether Antonio et al are the bad guys. But he stumbles over the "evil" that Shylock does. I couldn't disagree more.
Of course, I am not surprised that anyone would misunderstand the play, since it has completely baffled us for 400 years. I am delighted that the notion of Shylock as something less than villain is becoming more acceptable and embraced, as this reviewer does.
He goes on to write about the "luxury and licentiousness of Venice" but applies this only to the Venice of Othello. Why?
If only he stopped and thought about the "licentiousness of Venice" in Merchant, he might get closer to the real play that Shakespeare wrote -- a very bawdy farce -- where the only character who is not lewd and lascivious is Shylock.