"Hath not a Jew eyes? Hoo-wah!" or "Why aren't Al Pacino movies anti-Semitic?"

There is a new big budget film version of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice set for release next year starring Al Pacino as Shylock. While that character has one of the most moving speeches in all of the Bard (the one which includes the lines


he is also an undeniably and unapologetically vindictive and evil greedy and corrupt stereotype from one of the most blatantly antisemitic eras of English history.

Pacino recently completed filming Angels in America in which, armed with prosthetic nose and whining accent, he portrays the real life Jewish attorney/power broker Roy Cohn, “the polestar of human evil”. Other Jewish characters include Louis, an effete intellectual so self absorbed that he walks out on his dying lover rather than endure the illness; Ethel Rosenberg, back from the grave and an embittered harpie there solely to torture Cohn; and the fictional Rabbi Chemelowitz, a senile and anti-Christian immigrant who personifies an archaic religion.

I’m not picking on Al Pacino, but why do you think that Angels didn’t receive the huge accusations of antisemitism that Passion received? (True, the playwright is Jewish, but only nominally: he’s very secular, openly gay and didn’t even bar-mitzvah.) Also, based on the huge buzz surrounding Passion, if next year’s Merchant of Venice is at all true to the play (the pound of flesh and forced conversions, etc.), do you think there will be an outcry from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the JDL, and other societies like there was with Passion?

Well since Roy Cohn is a very recent historical person. Mr. Pachino was acting like ROY COHN. He was not acting like a Jewish Sterotype but like a particular person.
As far as Merchant of Venice goes, the play is troublsome. Most of the characters don’t like Shylock and the reason they don’t like him is somewhere between ‘he is a right bastard’ and ‘he is a filthy Jew’. :frowning:
But then Shylock has that great speach. ;j

Add into it that that Shylock loses in the end and does not get his pound of flesh.

Unlike those Jews in Mel’s film who, from the sounds of it, get about three pounds of flesh.

Given a play or movie, there is a difference between:
(a) - Having a Jewish character who is evil or nasty or villanous
(b) - Having a Jewish character that is a stereotype
© - Claiming that all Jews are evil or nasty or villanous, in a conspiracy against “us”, and
(d) - Putting blame for some major historical (or religious) tragedy on a group of people (when the blame rests, in fact, with a small number of individuals)

OK, now re-read this and replace “Jew” with “black” or “Japanese” or “Catholic.” While option (a) is acceptable, it is no longer acceptable to have (b) black stereotypes, or © claim that blacks are out to destroy the purity of the white race, or (d) blame the Civil War on rebellious black slaves.

So the problem is that the play is set in a time when anti-semitism was the hip thing to do?

Don’t see a problem with the play. The time period, I have a problem with, but not the play (and, thus, not the movie, either).

Historically, it is a very politically incorrect play viewed through today’s standards. The behavior in it is very “of the time” and even manages to make fun of Moors (blacks). The debate is usually is it a Tragedy or is it a comedy? I’ve seen productions in which action is added to be more sympathetic to Shylock, and to show what rat-bastards the goyim in the show are – it had mixed success. I think it is entirely possible to play Shylock as a tragic character – possible, but not easy, not without some editing, and not without some playing with the work as a whole.

I look forward to seeing how Pacino does with it – perhaps he can ring the magic down and make it all come together.
[Hijack] BTW – rewatched Jesus Christ Superstar and found it to intimate some extremely anti-semetic moments (High Priests as Crows, Herod, Blood Thirsty crowd, lines like “You Jew produce Messiah’s by the sack-full” and so on. Not a pretty picture. [/Hijack]

Some of the characters are anti-Semites, that’s not the same as saying the play is. I think the complexity of Shylock - and other things, like the play’s ending - makes a strong case that it’s not. He’s a greedy bastard, but he’s also definitely got a cause for his anger. There’s also some reason to believe that Shakespeare was responding to contemporary events (the execution of Rodrigo Lopez, who was Jewish, for plotting against Queen Elizabeth). [It’s weird to write “the execution of Rodrigo Lopez” since I actually know a guy with that name. :p]

I’ve heard the case that Shylock was a coded attack on Puritans, not actually Jews, although I’m not familiar with the details of the argument.

As for Angels, Louis, while weak, is as sympathetic as anyone else in the play. I don’t think Ethel was meant to torment Cohn, so much as provide a conscience and a chance at redemption. It’s a play that’s angry at God, specifically as portrayed in Judaism (and Mormonism, to a lesser extent), but that’s not quite anti-semetic.

Depending on the director’s interpretation, it’s entirely possible to play ‘Merchant of Venice’ in such a way that the audience’s sympathies are with Shylock rather than the ‘heroes.’ I saw the Royal Shakespeare do it this way a few years ago, and it was very effective.

And you can also play Shylock as an anti-semitic stereotype, and that’s been done many times, too.

I’m reserving judgement until I see the movie.

Shakespeare is the very model of artistic restraint with Shylock. ;j

If I remember correctly, he has Shylock make reference to one of Marlowe’s plays- The Jew of Malta- where Barabas, the title character, kills great wodges of nuns.

Interestingly enough, the first time I read Merchant I was at a Jewish sleep-away camp.


Should we censor Huckleberry Finn?

Who’s to say there won’t be a fuss when it actually comes out?

The Passion is the Bible and this is Shakespeare. Nobody’s going to confuse this with a matter of historical record, and people will be able to consider the source in its cultural context. Part of the fuss over the Passion is that JDL-type people were concerned it could encourage anti-Semitism because people would think it actually happened and would encourage (as similar stories have historically) the notion that the Jews killed Jesus. Not so likely here.

35 years ago when I studied the Merchant of Venice in high school, the teacher noted that Shylock was a stereotype, and that the speech was Shakespeare’s response to the stereotyping.

And this was a Catholic high school, for crying out loud.

I don’t think there’s a person in the United States who knows what “The Merchant of Venice” is, who can’t put it in some sort of context.

Not that it’s really central to the thread, but today we think of this monologue as a moving, ‘can’t we all just get along?’ plea when really it’s not. Shylock is justifying his behavior:

Salario: Why, I am sure, if he forfeit thou wilt not take his flesh: what’s that good for?
Shylock: To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies; and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. 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? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villany you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.