give them a choice. We made them hateful with our stories--and to the degree that they're hateful, it's no wonder, but for the dizzying degree that we've just revealed ourselves as hateful, there's no bond, no pound of flesh. We're just bastards.I saw Merchant the other night, and the dude who played Shylock didn't do this scene this way, but it came to me in the middle with an awful shiver and became, for me, this play's fearsome core: the speech? "Hath not a Jew hands?" Imagine Shylock, not defiant, not roaring, not cold as ice, not looking for pity, but gnawing his fingers, hitting himself in the head, throwing himself against the walls, saying "Is not a Jew bad--bad--BAD--just like a Christian? And will he not revenge, as a way of stopping himself from going home in the mirror and driving a toothpick into his face?" His defiance becomes his heroism, the refusal to make that traumatic break with himself. Antonio's not that strong, and I bet he goes to his guest room at Belmont and hears the young cavorting and looks at the lines on his face and does something horrible to himself. Every time Shylock walks out of that courtroom and we leave him for the winners, it's unforgivable, because behind the scenes somewhere there's the mutilated self, the violated body. Our great art shows us that body--but our greatest art makes us complicit in not wanting to see it, but being aware it's there. This is no happy ending, nor even a clean tragedian sleep of death. This is a bunch of damaged and undermined people walking away to sow the crimes of the future.
CHRIS-TIANS! CHRIS-TIANS! GOTTA GIVE IT UP FOR CHRIS-TIANS! EVERYTHING GOES GREAT FOR CHRIS-TIANS! There are, as we know, many unresolvable interpretative ourobori in this play--the anti-Semitism thing, the relationship of Antonio and Bassanio, the very vexed question of the Venetian oath, that false thing, and what yet makes Bassanio and Portia infinitely cold and clean and Shylock a quintessence of grime--I mean to say, better to rule one's house in the Ghetto than serve in Belmont, right? As Jessica will learn, to her sorrow? The fact that the passionate malice of the Italians is so much more terrifying, here, than the grim legalmindedness of the Jew? These are all interesting things, and this great play is chock-full of more cool thoughts like them--about capitalism, about youth sucking age dry like the New Testament does the Old, about the Prince of Morocco as a secret counterpoint to Shylock--the Semite prince, cartoonishly accipitrine, flourishing a scimitar-world of infinite princehood--versus the Semite moneylender, ever debased below his pecuniary value, from the people who had their princes taken away long ago. And you can get diverted and watch a smartass Hermione Granger type (In the context of Christian and post-Christian hatred, I use the word "progress" with infinite trepidation, but surely the fact that our generation's reincarnation of the bright spark who always has something up her sleeve is a Mudblood fighting Voldemort and his crew of wizard Nazis, and not an abjurer and defender and reinscriber of racial boundaries around the home, possibly that's a small good thing?) break a bitter old man and clear the road for wedding-ring hijinx--and you know that for the happy crew at the middle, somehow the bill for the uneasy edge that their ringplay has in that extraordinary final scene falls at Shylock's door too. You can do all that but when you stop just watching the sweet show and try to resolve something, close any one of the doors that Shakespeare so suggestively leaves open, you find yourself tying yourself in knots, and getting into some really dark places. Why? Because it doesn't matter how we arrange our interpretations; there is no version of this play where Shylock's not fucked from the beginning, because he's the villain and the groundlings want him to get a kick, and there's no version where he's not the villain--there never will be--why? Because he's the Jew. And suddenly it hits you--it hits generic Gentile me--why the representation of people like you as good and kind that the mainstream culture has always taken for granted is the most essential thing in the world. Because otherwise, on some level, from the earliest age, you're afraid that you're bad. And the rest of it proceeds inexorably outward from that fundamental trauma. Why does Antonio loathe Shylock? He's easy to loathe, because he's never had a role open to him that wasn't loathsome. Why does Shylock loathe Antonio? Because he's just as loathsome, only--roles again--nobody will ever see it, because he's inherited the snowy mantle of lion in winter. It's like how racism isn't wrong because those people we hate didn't have a choice about being hateful; that's not why; it's wrong because we didn't