Howard Jacobson on His Recreation of Shylock

March 22, 2016 | Howard Jacobson
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Discussing his most recent novel, an adaptation of The Merchant of Venice set in modern Britain, Howard Jacobson comments on the character of Shylock and the question of Shakespeare’s anti-Semitism. (Interview by Liam Hoare.)

Shylock . . . remains part of English culture as both noun and adjective. . . . Shylock does not die in the play; he is very much still among us.

Although Shylock comes from the mind of someone who isn’t Jewish, he has entered the Jewish imagination. He’s entered the literature, not just about Jews, but also of Jews. He is one of the ways that we see ourselves. He won’t go away—he’s always there. . . .

[In The Merchant of Venice, Shylock comes across as] so much more sympathetic than the other characters. At once, immediately, he plays with them: he’s funny; he’s quick on his feet; he plays the Jew and then doesn’t play the Jew; he plays them at their own game; he’s saucy; he’s rude. . . .

Did Shakespeare hate Jews? Clearly he didn’t, because there was so much amusement and vitality and pity to Shylock, including the famous, “Hath not a Jew eyes?” That’s standard for Shakespeare—you humanize the foreign, you humanize the alien.

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