Now on OU.ORG: DVD of Rabbi Weil, Two Other Experts, On Merchant of Venice
From Left: Moderator Patrick Healy, Professor James Shapiro, Director Barry Edelstein, and OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Steven Weil debate Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” at The Museum of Jewish Heritage. Photo courtesy of Melanie Einzig.
The question of whether Shakespeare was an anti-Semite, based on his portrayal of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, has been much-debated for centuries. Now, in a DVD provided by The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust and available on the OU website, www.ou.org, OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Steven Weil and two other experts provide their opinions.
The DVD may be accessed from the home slide, Around the OU, on the home page of the website or accessed directly: (http://www.ou.org/torah/article/shylock_shakespeare_and_the_jews_anti-semitism_merchant_of_venice_ ).
It was recorded at a well-attended mid-April program at the Museum, “Shylock, Shakespeare, and the Jews: Anti-Semitism in the Merchant of Venice.”
Rabbi Weil is joined in the roundtable discussion by Barry Edelstein, who has directed Shakespeare, including The Merchant of Venice, at The Public Theater in New York and around the country; James Shapiro, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and author of “Shakespeare and the Jews”; and moderator Patrick Healy, theater reporter for The New York Times.
In the 70-minute video, the panelists refer to the unabashed anti-Semitism in The Merchant, but note that the play features some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines: “Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”
Rabbi Weil declared that Shakespeare gave the world a nuanced Shylock. The “hath not a Jew eyes,” speech was “Shakespeare at his best, conveying a sense of ambiguity,” he said.
In answer to a question from the audience, Rabbi Weil’s response drew laughter, “No one in their right mind would nominate Shakespeare as a ‘righteous gentile.’ To paint him as an anti-Semite would be incorrect as well. He didn’t have the moral character to present a Jew in a positive light, but he did present a Jew in a nuanced light.”
Ultimately, though, as Rabbi Weil said, “We don’t know what was in Shakespeare’s mind.”
View entire debate below:
A roundtable discussion about anti-Semitism in The Merchant of Venice at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. Featuring Rabbi Steven Weil, Executive Vice President of the OU; Barry Edelstein, who has directed Shakespeare, including The Merchant of Venice, at The Public Theater and around the country; James Shapiro, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and author of “Shakespeare and the Jews"; and moderator Patrick Healy, theater reporter for The New York Times.
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