Monday, November 03, 2014

New Grounded Parents Post

My new post is up at Grounded Parents.

It's about the kid's troubled experience reading Merchant of Venice, among other texts.

Go here to read it: This Jew Bleeds: Your Kid and Problematic Reading Assignments


Anonymous said...

This right here is key, "Why isn’t the teacher saying how stupid it is?"

Merchant of Venice, Huckleberry Finn, even Birth of a Nation can be used in class, but not without such commentary. (Same with Othello, another problematic and commonly used high school Shakespeare play.)

Bardiac said...

Your daughter's absolutely right to find the play horrific. It's horrific, and at the same time, a really important and telling play because it consolidates some of the anti-semitism in early modern England and helps us see how anti-semitism works culturally, and thus how it still works today.

That said, as with Othello, A&C, and pretty much all of Shakespeare, we read them not as a prescription of how to treat people or how to be, but to understand ways of thinking and being that are still important today. Along with the anti-semitism in the play, there's plentiful sexism as well, and that's pretty rampant in all of Shakespeare, and needs to be talked about as sexism, because it's important.

If your daughter wants to talk about the play, problematic as it is, with someone who loves teaching Shakespeare, I'd be happy to talk with her.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

Ditto what Bardiac said. I teach the play regularly at my Christian-based school, but I do so because it shows us just how hypocritical Christians are. To me, the play works the Jewish stereotypes in order to reveal the evils of the "Christian" class. Yes, there is hate speech in the play, but it is there to undermine the hate, and show that the haters are really the ones who are wrong. Huck Finn is another good example of that very same thing. But it's the teacher's responsibility to explain that. And that means that the teacher has to understand that to begin with.

This isn't just me trying to Fie-splain away Renaissance antisemitism. I do think that Shylock's speech "Hath not a Jew eyes" is evidence that Shakespeare thinks we should complicate our thinking regarding equality, ethics, and justice.

delagar said...

I do believe it can be taught the way you two are teaching it, Bardiac and Fie. But.

I'm trying to think how to express this. I've been trying all night.

The thing is, I am not entirely convinced that the way you are teaching it is the way Shakespeare meant it. (And I know, now we are deep in the weeds of Authorial Intent.) Shakespeare didn't even know any Jews, after all. That's one. And two, everyone always quotes the start of that Jews have eyes, Jews Bleed speech; they never quote the end of it, which is where Shakespeare has Jews being savage haters. He *might* be saying that Jews are (somewhat) justified in their savage hate. Still, they are (in his view) savages.

Finally, this is my problem with the play, and it is the same problem I have with Othello, and with Huck Finn, more or less, and with Faulkner's use of African Americans, for that matter: all of these writers use the Other as objects. They exist to enlighten the White Christian.

In other words, for Shakespeare, Jews aren't actual people. Only Christians are actual people. Jews exist only so far as they can be used to teach Christians a valuable lesson in how to behave.

See this little nasty monkey/dog of a Jew? That's how badly he behaves. Do you want to act like that? Well, do you?

It's the same sort of thing we see when boys are told not to act like girls. And it's just as distressing and as harmful to the (actual) Jews in the audience as it is to the girls in the audience.

I don't know. Maybe I'm wrong about this. I've been wrong before.

Anonymous said...

I'm not an English professor, but we did watch Birth of a Nation in one of my high school English classes, and we read Huckleberry Finn, and Othello, and with all of these they were used to say something about the time period in which they were written. (And we did cover that what it was to be black was different in Shakespeare's time. We did not go over any of the anti-feminist themes, however. And for some reason we watched the opera.)

We also had to watch that terrible movie Grand Canyon (some administrator loved it and made the entire school watch it) and the teacher went on a very enlightening rant about the magic negro theme (after a dozen students gushed about what a great movie it was and I piped in that I thought it was full of stereotypes).

(This was after I got kicked out of the class where the teacher said that the historical period isn't important and we should judge works on their own merits and not as a product of their time and we shouldn't know anything about the author. I also later got kicked out of the deconstructionist's class for disagreeing that words have no meaning. Give me historical context and linguistics.)

In history we spent time on the Great White Savior as well, and reading British children's literature as an adult reading to my kid, I cringe at those themes in books I remember enjoying as a child. (Kipling, The Secret Garden, etc.) It's even worse reading things that haven't stood the test of time but are available free on kindle (Penrod, Anna Katherine Green, some PG Wodehouse) and can't even pretend to be enlightening white people.

I somehow doubt that my child will be getting those themes from school should we remain in the south.

Btw, I think Bardiac is saying what you're saying as well.

Anyway, that's probably a lot of useless rambling.