Howard Jacobson’s Updated “Merchant of Venice” Turns the Original on Its Head

Feb. 18 2016

Howard Jacobson, the well-known author of novels about English Jews and English anti-Semitism, has retold Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and set it in 21st-century Britain. In Shylock Is My Name, writes Adam Kirsch in his review, Jacobson has masterfully recast the story, using it to probe both anti-Semitism and Jewish fears:

At the same time that [the wealthy Jewish art collector Simon] Strulovich represents Shylock, however, he also meets Shylock—the real Shylock, still inexplicably alive after 400 years, whom he first encounters in a Jewish cemetery. In this way, Jacobson combines Shylock with yet another Jewish archetype—the Wandering Jew, unable to die, doomed to spend eternity roaming the earth. Soon Shylock is Strulovich’s houseguest, advising him on how to deal with his daughter, as the course of Strulovich’s life increasingly resembles that of Shylock’s own. . . .

In developing this plot, Jacobson combines silliness with satire. He allows his depiction of the story’s Gentile characters to be invaded by a very Shylockian anger—at their heedlessness, their selfishness, their affectation, their casual anti-Semitism. Portia is the idealized heroine of Merchant of Venice, but in the novel, Plurabelle is a monster of entitlement and vulgarity—deformed by plastic surgery, enjoying the bogus fame of a reality TV star. . . . In one scene, Plury, as her friends call her, and D’Anton [the equivalent of Shakespeare’s Antonio] play a game called Jewepithets, in which they come up with increasingly insulting names for Jews—“the Hebrew,” “the moneybags,” “the inexecrable dog.” It is a Jewish paranoid fantasy of how non-Jews talk behind closed doors, and Jacobson’s portrait of the whole English Gentile world is informed by this kind of consciously overblown yet inescapable paranoia.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Tablet

More about: Anti-Semitism, Arts & Culture, British Jewry, Howard Jacobson, Literature, William Shakespeare

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy