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,
heal’d by the same means, warm’d and cool’d 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, do we not revenge? If we are like you in the
rest, we will resemble you in that.
The Merchant Of Venice Act 3, scene 1, 58–68
Last week I attended David Serero‘s production of Shakespeare‘s The Merchant of Venice for the American Sephardic Federation, at Manhattan’s Center for Jewish History. Mr. Serero adapted, directed and starred (as Shylock) in this play. Taking the Bard’s words – as a departure point – he introduced some Sephardic songs into his script, with his beautiful and powerful baritone intoning the introductory Shalom Alechem and a couple of others, while Dina Desmone – as Portia – sang a Ladino love song.
Though shorter than the original play, this version (superbly acted by Serero, Desmone, with James Bocock – as Antonio, Joseph Talluto – as Bassanio, and Ron Barba – as Prince of Morocco/Salerio/Duke of Venice, and Noriko Sunamoto as the piano accompanist), illustrated with strong emotions what a Jew is. Much has been argued about Shakespeare’s antisemitism, yet while Shylock is not a very sympathetic character, his hatred is shown as nothing more than the fruit of the prevailing feelings of the day towards the Jews. Perhaps it is time to rethink the way Shakespeare thought of of us. Did he indeed see us as blind, greedy money grabbers; or did Shylock‘s portrayal serve to show up the hypocrisy and prejudice of contemporary society?
David Serero‘s adaptation revisualized the original in a more Jewish, yet universal, view of blind prejudice and its pernicious effect on everyone. Though William Shakespeare may never have met a Jew, in real life; though almost 5 centuries passed since the play was first written; horrible massacres were perpetrated since, for no reason other than ignorance and unbridled bigotry. The world learned little from the blood spilled, little from the devastation of war; the savagery of hatred is still alive and well as we look at events around the world…