Sunday, February 06, 2005

A Pound of Flesh

Tonight we went to see A Merchant of Venice, a new movie based on Shakespeare’s play. If you are Christian, you probably see it as the comedy it is advertized to be, having a happy ending. If you are Jewish, you are probably disgusted as the stereotypical portrayal of the Jew, in the persona of Shylock, the moneylender.

In 16th century Venice, the Jews had already been relegated living in the ghetto, stripped of their rights, and made to wear red caps when they ventured outside the ghetto during the day. Many practiced usury because Christians were not allowed to lend money for profit. Shylock, who from the onset looks like a shady character, agrees to loan “the good-hearted” Antonio a sum of 3,000 ducats, including the provision that instead of interest a pound of flesh can be extracted if Antonio fails to repay the sum at the end of a 3-month period. Antonio is borrowing the money to finance his friend Bassanio’s pursuit of the beautiful Portia. Bassanio is successful in pursuing Portia. However, Antonio’s ships are lost at sea and he cannot repay the 3,000 ducats. Portia, who is independently wealthy, offers to repay the debt three-fold. But Shylock insists instead on exacting the pound of flesh. He has an impossible dilemma, however, when he is ready to plunge the knife into the terrified Antonio’s breast and the judge (who is really Portia in disguise) tells him that he can only cut out a pound of Antonio’s flesh if he can do it without spilling one drop of blood. One thing leads to another and in the end Shylock is stripped of everything he has, including his religion, and everyone else lives happily ever after.

So the message we learn from this is that Jews are shady characters, who are uncompromising and who would stoop to murder to settle a dispute. The other lesson is that in the end the Jews deserve what they get. Was Shakespeare really this antisemitic? I wonder if the Jews in his time experienced a backlash from this play or whether it was truly representative of the way Jews were viewed. So although Al Pacino does a marvelous job in his role as Shylock, the play leaves any Jew with the feeling of “Why does this keep happening?”


Blogger Dsquared said...

And, also the question about why people make movies like this? This movie may be even worse in some way than Mel Gibson's. At least there, you knew going in it ws blatantly anti-semitic. This one tries to be more subtle, but in the end it's just as insidious.

Here's another question. The world population is about 6.5 billion people. There are approximately 13 million Jews in the wold - 0.2 %. So, why can't the rest of the world just leave us alone? What kind of a threat are we?

2:14 AM  

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