Sunday, February 12, 2012

Shakespeare Chattanooga

I was introduced today to a new phenomenon.  A group of professional and semi-professional actors present Shakespeare in well-acted ways but with minimal sets and costumes.  What a way to spend a cold Sunday afternoon.  A friend invited me along to see their production The Merchant of Venice.  It is without irony that this play, which has some virulent anti-Semitism (or I should say anti-semitic lines) was presented at the Jewish Cultural Center.  That was the intention from the beginning.

Since reams have been written about this play, which in the after-discussion was referred to as a problem play,  I won't venture any literary criticism.  But I had forgotten how harsh the lines about Jews are, and I am tempted to think Shakespeare was too much a product of his time and cannot be excused thoroughly by saying, "he is portraying racism realistically."  The fact that the loss of his money is more important than the loss of his daughter is a give-away that Shylock is a villain, in Shakespeare's eyes, and not just because he is a villain, but because he is a Jew also.  But I may be, and probably, am wrong.  I do not idolize writers--even as great as Shakespeare--or think they are incapable of inhuman actions and words, as some do.  Faulkner, for example, didn't go out of his way to portray blacks sympathetically, and you would think they barely existed in the south.  Writers, no matter their genius, are humans and aren't writing holy scriptures.

To a lesser degree I feel this with the Taming of the Shrew; but that play is so much fun that it is easy to dismiss the misogyny. 

However, Merchant is a great play--not Hamlet, but still great--and made for a wonderful performance.  The actors are to be commended.  I won't names, but I did have favorites (a human foible!).

Hear, hear, for Shakespeare Chattanooga, a serendipitous discovery.


Becky Wooley said...

I played the part of the Jewish daughter in a production of "The Merchant of Venice" at Harding College in 1970. The play was financed by a Jewish furrier in Little Rock.

Barbara G. Tucker said...

It's a great play, but it's hard to tell (to me) if Shakespeare is targeting the Jews or antisemitism--or neither.
The only Shakespeare I was in was MacBeth (one of the witches, ha, ha).

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