Edit for Length, Not for Antisemitism

Making the rounds today is Mark Rylance’s visit to see the newly discovered First Folio, and what he said while he was there:

The former artistic director of the Globe Theatre in London, who is starring in the BBC’s Wolf Hall, said: “I don’t think there’s pressure [to remove] the bawdy jokes. He’s bawdier a lot more times than people realise. 

“The pressures I feel are more for times where he will say something very antisemitic,” he said.


Seriously, why do we single out antisemitism but leave in all the racism and sexism and every other -ism of which Shakespeare is guilty?

How about Claudio’s great head-smacking moment in Much Ado About Nothing? Forced into marrying a woman he’s never seen and asked if he’s ready to go through with it, he replies thusly:

Good morrow, prince; good morrow, Claudio:
We here attend you. Are you yet determined
To-day to marry with my brother’s daughter?

I’ll hold my mind, were she an Ethiope.

In case you missed it, Claudio basically gave “I won’t say anything, even if she’s black” as a worst-possible-case scenario.

Or should we talk about what Roderigo and Iago say about Othello?  Calling him “thick lips” is about the least offensive thing I can think of as an example.

Maybe we should tackle sexism next? Pretty sure that would just kill the entire “courtship” between Petruchio and Kate.  It could be a one woman show called Untamed Shrew.

The more I think of it the less I can get my head around what Rylance said. How do you even take the antisemitism out of Merchant of Venice? At least I’m assuming that’s the play to which he is referring. Isn’t it kind of the whole point? If you take out the antisemitic bits, the famous “If you prick us do we not bleed” speech is reduced to, “Actually, you know, people have been very nice to me. I’ve got no complaints.” If you remove the fundamentally antisemitic premise that Shylock is the bad guy *because* he is the jew, then why is he the bad guy?

You don’t solve a problem by saying “Let’s not talk about it. Let’s pretend it doesn’t exist.” It would seem like much better conversation can come from presenting it as Shakespeare wrote it and then discussing what it means.

One thought on “Edit for Length, Not for Antisemitism

  1. I think he's talking about things like Benedick's "If I do not love her, I am a Jew", which is regularly changed to "fool" in productions. Not like Merchant of Venice or Othello, where it's a major theme of the play.

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