2009-01-25

Shylock - Shakespears Jewish Merchant of Venice

I am recently busy with the history of Jews during the time of the italian renaissance for my Seminar about Jewish Art in the same period of time. During christmas holidays I was asked to read about the history of the Jews of Venice and after reading it I was very much surpriced about their power and wealth despite the Jewish Ghetto that was close to the red light district and the other poor neighborhoods.

My attention however was drawn to a family called Nasi that originally fled from Portugal in the time of the reconquista in 1496 to Antwerpen and from there to Venice where they got privilages and the right to reside there. The family belonged to the so called Marannos, those Jews who had to convert to Christianity during the inquisition but kept and continued their judaism secretly. Then because of a fight between the two sisters about money that one of the sister put on her bank account and the other one reclaimed back infront of the serenissima, the venice "parliament", both of the sisters were kicked out from the city. One stood in Italy in another italian city where she got the right to settle down and the other sister went to Konstantinopel, in the Otthoman Empire. Her couson came as well to "turkey" and both of them got the freedom of practizing their jewish belief again, got own land from the Sultan and an own palace. Surprisingly they even got whole Tiberias, where they supported the settlement of Jews.

In the same context The conflict between the growing otthoman empire and the anti-jewish Liga of the Pope and his allies increased. Also the Nasi family in Konstantinopel increased their influence in Europe and therefore it happens that war broke out between the two. The most important battle happened at the sea, near Lepanto in 1571. The Liga won and the Osmans had to give up a couple of land to the papal alliance.

Looking at the history of Venice and it's powerful Jews I watched Shakespears Merchant of Venice - a powerful and impressive play about humanity and coexistence between Jews and Christians at this time symbolized by the young jewish-christian couple, the daughter of the wealthy Merchant Shylock and a christian Merchant who both fell in love with each other and in the end married and got the property of Shylock. Most impressive of the movie was the monologue of Shylock that probaply was speaking out what many humanists in the period of Shakespeare thought and dreamed about: equality between Jews and Christians.







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 shall 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 villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.


In German it goes like that...

Ich bin ein Jude. Hat nicht ein Jude Augen? Hat nicht ein Jude Hände, Gliedmaßen, Werkzeuge, Sinne, Neigungen, Leidenschaften? Mit derselben Speise genährt, mit denselben Waffen verletzt, denselben Krankheiten unterworfen, mit denselben Mitteln geheilt, gewärmt und gekältet von eben dem Winter und Sommer als ein Christ? Wenn ihr uns stecht, bluten wir nicht? Wenn ihr uns kitzelt, lachen wir nicht? Wenn ihr uns vergiftet, sterben wir nicht? Und wenn ihr uns beleidigt, sollen wir uns nicht rächen? Sind wir euch in allen Dingen ähnlich, so wollen wir's euch auch darin gleich tun. Wenn ein Jude einen Christen beleidigt, was ist seine Demut? Rache. Wenn ein Christ einen Juden beleidigt, was muß seine Geduld sein nach christlichem Vorbild? Nu, Rache. Die Bosheit, die ihr mich lehrt, die will ich ausüben, und es muß schlimm hergehen, oder ich will es meinen Meistern zuvortun. Ein Bedienter kommt.


However the court scene shows another reality: Jews were treated differently, were not just accepted or respected, used as merchants, as people who help to increase the budget of the Serenissima. They were also treated as puppets with whom you can do whatever you want. 1553 in example were jewish books burned in Rome and 3 years earlier in Venice. 1550 Maranos were declared as haeretics and therefore had to leave Venice. in Rome Jews had to wear a symbol (mostly a red head or a golden ring), they weren't allowed to own real estate and had to go to christian preaches to listen to the so called "real and only believe" of the catholic church. In the same time taxes for jews were increased, their privilleges reduced. it wasn't really easy to be a Jew at this time. And that is what the Scene at the court resamples again and again in the merchand of Venice.

Here a version in spanish with english subtitles: