Sunday, December 4, 2011

For Three-Word Wednesday

(Also for ABC Wednesday and Magpie 94)
"U" is for "Unforgettable"

This week’s prompt illustrates beautifully how the custom of communal dining, which ideally should be a chance for people to come together to enjoy delicious food, good company and conversation, is so often merely the process known as eating.
A meal with others can be a communal event, a sharing of both time and space, something as old as the discovery of fire when presumably prehistoric types sat around the cave near the single heat source that was used to cook their food.
In other words, a shared meal can have meaning; a chance to strengthen bonds or perhaps get to know someone better. In this week’s prompt, possibly a hurried lunch, that meaning is lacking.
I suddenly remembered how important a meal was to one of William Shakespeare’s most unforgettable characters, Shylock.
You see, when it came to communal dining, Shylock was against it.
This was not just because the food the Christians of his city ate was different from his Jewish fare; it was because he would go only so far in his relations with them.
He is blunt about it. “I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, but I will not eat with you.”
I think it’s quite possible that Will Shakespeare never met a Jew, which is a bit odd when you realize that he created possibly the most famous Jew in all of English literature. For centuries, Jewish characters had appeared in various types of productions as villains, existing in Elizabethan England only as stereotypes and evil, mythical figures. These stereotypes were the playwright’s source for his play.
So the general understanding of that time was that Jews, first and foremost, hated all Christians, and might go to great lengths, if given the opportunity, to do harm to them.

So Shylock, though seemingly a passive man, was actually a cruel and miserly figure, and this would have fitted the usual, sereotypical view of a Jew of that era. But Shakespeare created a character who was also a devoted family man, a person of intelligence, someone even with a sense of humor – and someone who was not afraid to raise his flag against perceived enemies. Shylock was, in short, a human being whose behavior was the result of decades of cruelty by Venetian citizens. Above, Shylock with his daughter, Jessica.
As you undoubtedly know, in the play, during the famous trial sequence, Shylock is stymied when he tries to cut his pound of flesh from Antonio. The beautiful Portia, the play’s heroine, transmogrified into a lawyer, plays her ace: the contract didn't say anything about blood and it's against the law for a Christian's blood to be spilt.
As a result, because he had attempted murder, Shylock is stripped of all his wealth.
Then something interesting happens. The court, showing great magnanimity, will allow him to convert to Christianity.
No one of that time – and perhaps this was true of Shakespeare, too – seems to have realized that this great gift couldn’t have been regarded as such by Shylock.
He had lost his case, lost his fortune, even lost his daughter – who had married, to his disgrace, a Christian – and now he had nothing. He just wanted to get out of there.
“I pray you give me leave to go from hence,” he says. “I am not well.”


(By the way, I posted about Al Pacino’s “Merchant of Venice” a couple of months ago, but I thought I could refer to the play again because the character Shylock is one of Shakespeare’s most interesting, most complex and most challenging.)

49 comments:

Leslie: said...

Interesting take. I immediately thought of the poor homeless souls who will need to go to communal free eating spots for their Christmas dinners.

thingy said...

Wow. I love where the prompt led you.

Roger Owen Green said...

I certainly don't think that the character of Shylock created anti-Semitism, though it may have codified it.
Not a pejorative though: I think interpretation of Biblical passages codified American slavery, though not its intent.

Everyday Goddess said...

I like how you attach Magpie Tales to Shakespeare's work! Very cool.

Maureen said...

You've made an inspired reference to Shylock; in the context of the painting, done in 1964, when race relations in America were so explosive, the African-American (if considered a substitute for Shylock) turns upside down that notion of allowing in or keeping out by virtue of difference. Having seated the African-American in the center of the image, Tooker makes an unmistakable if subtle commentary on American society/culture of the period.

Tess Kincaid said...

Excellent post, Mr. B, excellent.

The Cello Strings said...

deep and creative take.

Berowne said...

Maureen: fascinating insight into the Tooker prompt. Thanks.

Berowne said...

Tess K: "Excellent post, Mr. B, excellent."
What a generous comment; thanks, Tess.

izzy said...

Love the multi-layered takes you get from these,
Thanks.

JJ Roa Rodriguez said...

This is very informative. I love it! Educational too...

JJRod'z

Helen said...

You have a great talent for leading folks to Shakespeare ... enticing them to read more and more.

ninotaziz said...

Sir,

You never never disappoint.

And that consistency, is remarkable.

Brian Miller said...

some interesting insights into the character of shylock...and a nice parallel to the times of the pic as well berowne...

Carrie Burtt said...

A true teacher is a great story teller....you are that indeed Berowne!!

sharplittlepencil said...

Berowne, all-around excellent commentary. I have always felt that Shylock would not eat with Christians because they did not keep kosher, which shows him to hold religion dear. Even given the flaw of the nature of the loan (a pound of flesh? So cruel), Shylock is treated with what most people would consider magnanimity... but to "promote" him to Christianity? Talk about making HIM bleed... Amy
http://sharplittlepencil.wordpress.com/2011/12/02/the-day-i-saw-an-angel-fly-lyrics/

Berowne said...

sharplittle: "I have always felt that Shylock would not eat with Christians because they did not keep kosher."
The subject of what Shylock ate, or didn't eat, is confusing, ambiguous and sort of mixed up. I don't think Will Shakespeare ever heard of kosher food -- the word "kosher" isn't in Shakespeare -- and Shylock contributes to the confusion when he early on says "I am a Jew, fed with the same food..." as Christians. He tells the goyim he will not eat with them, but later in Act II goes to Bassanio's banquet (where we may be pretty sure no kosher food was available). Confusing...

Lyn said...

Even the cave folks knew to sit around a warming fire. Limitations, for Shylock, for us, difficult to overcome, but during this season, come on over!

Leave it to you...

Berowne said...

Lyn: "During this season, come on over!"
Spiritually, I'm already there. :-)

Barb said...

Very interesting commentary. I studied the Merchant of Venice many years ago at school. Being from a country where Judaism was almost non-existent I no concept of the intricacies of the play, and gave it no further thought after the last paper was turned in, lol. Thanks for re-awakening my education.

Hildred and Charles said...

Eating together, companionably, - the precursor to so many lovely adventures.

Gigi Ann said...

Eating together with friends is a most welcome time, but with a house full of strangers, I would go off and eat alone.

Don't know any Shakespeare, only what I read here in your posts. But, it is always enlightening to read, and maybe learn a little each visit.

Tumblewords: said...

Oh, dear Shylock. It's always fun to find the details here. Nice.

Berowne said...

It's always great to hear from my friend Tumble. Thanks.

jaerose said...

You have such an understanding and insight into your chosen topics..I always leave with something new..Jae

Sheilagh Lee said...

you really understand this subject and bring up good points.

Margaret said...

...how could he NEVER have met a Jew? Do you mean he didn't socialize with them? Very interesting... even today we "stereotype" people and religions...

Berowne said...

Margaret: "How could he NEVER have met a Jew?"
It's a sad fact that Jews were expelled from England in 1290, not to be readmitted until 1655 -- long after Shakespeare's death.

Margaret said...

!! I knew you would have the answer. Thanks! Just makes me shake my head, they way we humans treat one another.

MaryA said...

I always look forward to seeing how you will weave your words in these posts. You did not disappoint me.

My Shakespeare is a little rusty. You've sent me to my books again.

EG Wow said...

How interesting to understand Shylock in this way!

Meryl Jaffe, PhD said...

I REALLY appreciated the perspective you provide here in discussing Shylock. It is sensitive and (from my Jewish perspective) quite accurate. OBSERVANT Jews did not eat communal meals because the food did not comply with their rules of "kashrut" (being kosher) and instead of insulting the hosts, Jews simply did not eat with non-Jews.

Great post!

Andy said...

Hello.
Fascinating & informative post.
Thanks for sharing & visiting. I appreciate the comment.

For ref:
Under Your Spell

C Hummel Kornell a/k/a C Hummel Wilson said...

Love your lessons.

HyperCRYPTICal said...

Thanks for the lesson too - love it.

Anna :o]

Berowne said...

My thanx to HyperCRYPTICal, C Hummel K (or W), Andy, Meryl J, E G Wow, Mary A, Sheilagh L, Margaret and jaerose for your encouraging comments.

Dave King said...

Thought-provoking - and of course you can refer to the play again: as many times as you wish, so far as I'm concerned. Great post.

Berowne said...

"Great post." Thanks, Dave K, for your generous comment.
I don't feel dull; I don't feel hollow.
I found myself in your "Blogs I Follow." :-)

geraldine snape said...

Fantastic post...I was wondering if Shakespeare would have know of the massacre at Cliffords tower in York in 1190? This history may have coloured his thoughts on the character of Shylock.
Thankyou for all the info...super!

Berowne said...

geraldine s.: "I was wondering if Shakespeare would have have known of the massacre at Cliffords tower in York in 1190?"
Well, that pogrom took place hundreds of years before Shakespeare's birth, but he certainly did know his history -- both England's and the history of ancient Greece and Rome -- so my guess would be that he did know of it.

☆•.¸.Mildred.¸.•☆ said...

Je n'ai jamais lu le "Marchand de Venise" et le regrette!
Je le ferai dès que j'aurai un peu plus de temps;o)
Merci pour ce partage et pour ton petit mot sympa dans mon blog. Les parapluies de Cherbourg
sont moins jolis que ceux de Nancy! Na! ;o)

***
Belle fin de semaine, Berowne****

susan m hinckley said...

So interesting! Thanks for sharing your insights -- a lovely surprise for my Saturday morning.

jabblog said...

Your responses to visual prompts are always interesting and informative - you are a natural teacher.

Berowne said...

Mildred: "Les parapluies de Cherbourg
sont moins jolis que ceux de Nancy!"
Je m'en doute. :-)

Berowne said...

jabblog: "You are a natural teacher."
Good to hear. That's where the big money is.:-)

Suzy said...

Shylock took me back to the school days. The Merchant of Venice was my first Shakespeare book.
Thanks for visiting my blog.

keiths ramblings said...

Entertaining, educational and above a great read. I hung on every word.Bril!

Mary said...

An interesting read. I enjoyed the background you shared about Shylock and your interpretation and speculations!

capturedalive said...

Very interesting take...

Pheno, ABCW Team

 
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