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Because I Am a Jew: The Truth Behind Shylock

Because I Am a Jew: The Truth Behind Shylock

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Because I Am a Jew: The Truth Behind Shylock

5/5 (1 peringkat)
73 pages
1 hour
May 11, 2017


Delving into the history of The Merchant of Venice, this book addresses Shakespeare's only Jewish character: Shylock.

This unique book treats several topics including the way Jews lived during Shakespeare's time, how Shylock was used as a propaganda by the Nazis, and how historical events and personal experiences effected how certain Jewish actors approached Shylock (From Jacob Adler, Anthony Sher, Habima Theatre company in Israel, to opera singer and actor David Serero).

Shylock, a villain or misunderstood man? This book offers the answers from a theatre and religious point of view.

Written by Alycia Oppenheim

May 11, 2017

Tentang penulis

Alycia Oppenheim is a graduate of the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. She received her Master’s Degree in Shakespeare Studies in 2016. Prior to pursuing her Master’s Degree, she received her Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature from the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida.Having a life-long passion for William Shakespeare and his works, Alycia worked as stage manager for several Shakespearean productions in England. Throughout her academic career she has studied Shakespeare and travelled abroad to further her academic studies. Alycia completed two study abroad programs in 2010 and 2011, at Cambridge University in England. She also attended the prestigious Shylock Project in Venice, Italy, that was done in the summer of 2016. When not immersing herself in the works of the great Bard, Alycia enjoys the theatre, traveling, and writing.

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Because I Am a Jew - Alycia Oppenheim



Throughout history Jews have been persecuted in different ways, in different countries and by different people. When starting to write my paper, I contemplated how Jewish history and personal experience could affect the way that an actor portrayed a role as significant as Shylock. While doing my research, it became evident that it did not matter who the actor was or during which era the actor lived, most of the actors portrayed Shylock as a villain.

To understand the influence of history on the performances, I researched the history of the Jews during the Renaissance and was somewhat perplexed by the findings. Living in England during the time that I wrote this paper and, being Jewish myself, it was important for me to understand the life of the Jews during Shakespeare’s time. Researching the atrocities inflicted on the Jewish people during the Renaissance may have contributed to Shakespeare’s portrayal of his only Jewish character. Interesting to note, however, is that according to history, Jews were not permitted to live in England during Shakespeare’s time. In fact, Shakespeare may have never even met a Jewish person, which might explain the stereotypical representation of Shylock the Jew.

It was important when outlining the paper that I shared information about the history of the play and its various productions as well. Several variations of the productions of The Merchant of Venice are included but there are many more that were not discussed. As the focus of this paper was on some of the Jewish actors who portrayed Shylock in specific time periods, productions using non-Jewish actors were not included. The purpose of the dissertation was to determine the effect of personal experiences and history on the Jewish actors’ portrayals of Shylock.

It was interesting to consider that actors are supposed to get into character by forgetting their identities but, for these Jewish actors, they needed to take into consideration not only their own history and their own feelings but also the history of those who came before.

In writing the paper I did experience some difficulty when attempting to find information regarding certain actors and performances from 1901- present day. For those actors for whom biographies and autobiographies were available, it was easier to find information regarding personal experiences that may have affected their performances. For example, the pogroms, that Jacob Adler had to endure, affected how he portrayed Shylock. For other actors such as Antony Sher, though biographies and autobiographies exist, it was how he viewed himself as a Jew and not just his experiences that helped in his portrayal of Shylock. Finding information on the Habima Theatre as well as Aaron Meskin, Shimon Finkel, involved translating press releases and articles from the Hebrew text to English. These articles were found in the archives of the Habima Theatre in Tel Aviv, Israel.

I would not have been able to write this paper without the information that I gained from the Shylock Project in Venice, Italy, over the course of two weeks during the summer of 2016. The information that I received from the incredible speakers at the conference helped me build my topic and look at different ways to approach the characters and the actors. It is also important to note that, as this was written for my Master’s dissertation, the guidance of my tutors at the Shakespeare Institute as well as my mentor, Dr.Penny Freedman, contributed to my accomplishment.

There are several others who must be mentioned here. Among these are my aunt, Esther Newman, who lives in Israel and spent hours translating the Hebrew documents into English; my immediate family for their guidance, patience, and support throughout my year in England; and David Serero for allowing me the opportunity to interview him and discuss many aspects of his portrayal of Shylock; all of which contributed to my book.


Throughout the centuries actors have portrayed Shakespeare’s Shylock from The Merchant of Venice in different ways; each incorporating into their performances past experiences, personal biases, and their own interpretations of the play. Noted Shakespearean scholar and writer Charles Lamb said that Shylock in the midst of his savage purpose is a man; his motives, feelings, resentments have something human in them (Southern 98). In the past four centuries Shylock has been portrayed as a savage, cruel character. More recently he has also been portrayed as a sympathetic man.

Although The Merchant of Venice was controversial when it was written and for some time thereafter, the play took on a special resonance after the Holocaust. Many scholars, actors and directors have different opinions on how the play should be performed in the wake of such tragedy, or if it should be performed at all. Robert L. King wrote in Shylock After Auschwitz that The Merchant of Venice can be performed with artistic and moral integrity without dishonoring the millions of dead (67). On the other side of

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