February 3, 2005

by Andrew Silow-Carroll
The Passion of Shakespeare

Unconvincing Shylock-Mel Gibson comparison in the Chicago Tribune:

The dramatic engine of "The Merchant of Venice" is the Shylock character, a money-grubbing Jew fixated on literally having a pound of Christian flesh. Yet the movie has drawn respectful reviews, not picket lines, perhaps because it is easier to criticize Gibson than Shakespeare.

Gibson is a Hollywood actor. He is a self-advertised conservative Catholic.

But Shakespeare is the Bard. His poetic diction established the modern English language.

The author misses a big difference between Gibson and Shakespeare, and why we give one a pass and not the other. Shakespeare takes a stock villain and attempts to humanize him; Gibson takes human beings and turns them back into stock villains.

"Merchant" seems to take the anti-Semitism that was a given in Shakespeare's day and tries to explore both it's causes and effects in dramatic form. On the surface, Shakespeare hands his audience a stock Elizabethan character-- and if he were an average dramatist, he would have left it at that, the way a modern tv drama paints its villains in the broad, stereotypical colors. But Shakespeare is not an average dramatist, and subverts his audience's expectations: Shylock is villainous but human; we see how the hatred of the Christians wounds him, which in turns indicts the Christian characters for their "un-Christian" behavior.

Gibson, by contrast, comes along at at time when anti-Semitism is on the wane in Christian teachings, and re-injects it into the middle of his Christian narrative. He doesn't attempt to humanize or understand Jesus' Jewish protagonists (any rachmones that he might display is extended toward Pontius Pilate, the Roman). He turns them back into stock villains, straight out of medieaval mystery play.


However, since Mel Gibson is frum, we're all supposed to give him a free pass.

Posted by: Reb Yudel at February 4, 2005 2:16 PM
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