Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Shylock

I've been out of town, so I have a lot of catching up with work to do today, but I did not want to miss my Wednesday posting. I tried to upload several images (there are many of Shylock online), but encountered error messages again and again. So I will have to paint a word picture today. In most of the images, Shylock has a tortured, tormented, or at the very least bitter and preoccupied look. Often he is stooped. Often he is being pursued or tormented by others. In one, he is tender, holding his daughter Jessica. I have only seen the Merchant of Venice performed once--at Chicago Shakespeare on Navy Pier. The play has all the complications and twists and turns and disguises of most Shakespeare. But to me, this was the most moving of all the plays I have seen and read. Shylock is both tormented and tormentor, exploiter and exploited, and herein lies the crux--to confuse the viewer's senses of empathy and repulsion. Very disturbing. Here's Phil Herbst's brief entry.

shylock. An antisemitic epithet meaning a "loan shark" or "extortionist." As a verb, it means to "lend money at exorbitant interest rates."

Shylock was the name of a character in Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice. He was a Jewish man portrayed as a bloodsucking usurer. The image of a practitioner of commercial deception, however, was a part of the stereotype of the Jew long before Shakespeare.
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'Almost as prominent are images of Shylock and Fagin: the Jew as a figure of surreptitious accumulation, gothic or medieval in style, performing mysterious rites in the dives of the modern city" (Howe 1976, 395).

2 comments:

Etta Worthington said...

This makes me think of the phrase "to jew someone down." I think that is how it is used.

another anitisemitic phrase

Susan Messer said...

Thanks for your comment. Yup, that's it. I'm going to see if Phil includes the word used that way in his dictionary. I've never actually heard someone use that expression in conversation with me and not sure how I would react if I did (especially if the person was non-Jewish and might not realize that I was).