Friday, July 29, 2011

On Being Human: What Shylock Teaches Us in "The Merchant of Venice"

Montana Shakespeare in the Park traveling company mounted two plays on the quad at Idaho State University this week: Much Ado About Nothing and The Merchant of Venice. I've been thinking about Shylock's "Hath not a Jew Eyes" speech in III.i for a couple of reasons:

1. Our local paper carried a vitriolic anti-gay rant in yesterday's paper ("The End Is Near"). The letter write is upset because of a planned Pride Pride parade and efforts by some local residents and the ACLU to keep the city council from beginning meetings with prayer.

2. A local writer, who recently switched careers from broadcasting to public relations, was interviewed by a local reporter and asked to defend her contribution toPocatello Pride. She posted on FB her thoughts. Here's the thread:


I can't believe I have to defend our donation to the Pocatello Pride event on the news. I didn't have to defend any of the other hundreds of contributions we've made to organizations in the community.
19 hours ago ·  · 
  • 3 people like this.
    • Drew Schnoebelen That is absolutely ridiculous. You should have said THAT to them when they asked you to do so.
      19 hours ago ·  ·  1 person
    • John Stosich Next time donate to the Boy Scouts...you would never have to defend that in the Media??? Sounds like Foxnews
      18 hours ago · 
    • Mark Russell Rapp Ludicrous. When will acceptance & tolerance abide?
      18 hours ago ·  ·  2 people
    • Todd Blackinton I'd like to point out that KPVI was not the organization asking the question. First, it's not a question that has to be asked. Second, Brenda would have de-friended me.
      18 hours ago ·  ·  7 people
    • Eric Forrest Well along the lines of "you only get what you can handle", maybe that's why you got it, you're the champion. Everyone will see the folly of past generations because Brenda stood up for what's right!
      17 hours ago ·  ·  2 people
    • Carolyn Olsen One of the many reasons I admire you so much.
      16 hours ago · 
    • Doug Long Ignore the ignorant. No need to defend loving thy neighbor Brenda.
      15 hours ago · 
    • Matt Smith Thank you for your stance and action. (inaction is still action) YOU are a ripple of change. And thank you all for your words of support and encouragement.
      13 hours ago · 
    • Glenda Cowen-Funk That was one nasty letter in the Journal today. I'd like to hear the reporter's defense for asking such a homophobic question. I'm thinking about rewriting Shylock's "I am a Jew" speech from "The Merchant of Venice" so that it is applicable to LBGTs.
      11 hours ago ·  ·  3 people
    • Susan Groseclose Stephens We are all Gods Children! He doesn't love one of us more than the others!
      about an hour ago · 


The world is full of hate, and after a former gay student's suicide in January, I admit to being a bit incensed. Whatever one thinks of the complicated Shylock, his remarks ring true for all humanity. All we need do is complete a little code switching, like this:

Hath not a Gay person eyes? 
Hath not a Gay person hands, organs, 
dimensions, senses, affections, passions; 
fed with the same food, 
hurt with the same weapons, 
subject to the same diseases,
heal'd by the same means, 
warm'd and cool'd by the same winter and summer, as all others
If you prick a Gay person, do they not bleed? 
If you tickle them, do they not laugh? 
If you poison them, do they not die?
And if you wrong them, do they not revenge? 

If they are like us in the rest, 
they will resemble us in that.


"Shylock" from Park's Shakspearean Twelfth-Night Characters. Hand-colored print, ca. 1830. Shelfmark ART 231747. 

Critics of teaching Shakespeare as having no relevance to teens, especially minorities whom the critics claim can't see themselves in the Bard's characters, need look no further than Shylock's reminder that we all share in one commonality: We are human beings, and each person deserves the same humanity we expect from others. 


*Image of Shylock and a lesson plan on "The Making of Shylock" available from The Folger Shakespeare Library.