Shylock, the Jewish moneylender in "The Merchant of Venice" who famously demands a pound of flesh as security for a loan to his antisemitic tormentors, is one of Shakespeare s most complex and idiosyncratic characters. With his unsettling eloquence andhis varying voices of protest, play, rage, and refusal, Shylock remains a source of perennial fascination. What explains the strange and enduring force of this character, so unlike that of any other in Shakespeare s plays? Kenneth Gross posits thatthe figure of Shylock is so ...
Shylock, the Jewish moneylender in "The Merchant of Venice" who famously demands a pound of flesh as security for a loan to his antisemitic tormentors, is one of Shakespeare s most complex and idiosyncratic characters. With his unsettling eloquence andhis varying voices of protest, play, rage, and refusal, Shylock remains a source of perennial fascination. What explains the strange and enduring force of this character, so unlike that of any other in Shakespeare s plays? Kenneth Gross posits thatthe figure of Shylock is so powerful because he is the voice of Shakespeare himself. Marvelously speculative and articulate, Gross s book argues that Shylock is a breakthrough for Shakespeare the playwright, an early realization of the Bard s power to create dramatic voices that speak for hidden, unconscious, even inhuman impulses characters larger than the plays that contain them and ready to escape the author s control. Shylock is also a mask for Shakespeare s own need, rage, vulnerability, and generosity, giving form to Shakespeare s ambition as an author and his uncertain bond with the audience. Gross s vision of Shylock as Shakespeare s covert double leads to a probing analysis of the character s peculiar isolation, ambivalence, opacity, and dark humor. Addressing the broader resonance of Shylock, both historical and artistic, Gross examines the character s hold on later readers and writers, including Heinrich Heine and Philip Roth, suggesting that Shylock mirrors the ambiguous states of Jewishness in modernity. A bravura critical performance, "Shylock Is Shakespeare "will fascinate readers with its range of reference, its union of rigor and play, and its conjectural even fictive means of coming to terms with the question of Shylock, ultimately taking readers to the very heart of Shakespeare s humanizing genius. "
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Entitling this review,?The Merchant of Venice Revisited,? I am, in an obscure way, complimenting the author for returning me to my sophomore year in high school when I first delved into that play by Shakespeare, the immortal bard. Although I suffered the difficulty of memorizing Portia?s ?quality of mercy speech,? long since forgotten, William Shakespeare is still my source for beautiful language. Witness this comparison to a Sam Spade type novel?s ?her hair fell over her shoulders like melted butter? and the bard?s description of Portia as ?sunny locks hang on her temples like a golden fleece.? The author of the present work, likewise, employs a majestic language, most refreshing in this era of vulgar gangsta rap. It was especially pleasing to relish his use of alliteration in a parenthetic aside in refering to dating Shakespeare?s sonnets: ?(though the dating is a murky matter).?
Kenneth Gross, holding a Ph.D. from Yale, is a professor of English and director of undergradute studies at the University of Rochester, Rochester, New York. As he states in the university?s Web site: ?I am interested in the inner workings of literary texts, both in themselves and as they form part of a dynamic, ongoing history,? further stating, ?My courses take up a variety of poetic and dramatic texts, from the Biblical narratives and Renaissance drama to modern poetry.? He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses, specializing in Shakespeare, having written two books in his specialty, the present work being his second.
The title of his work, Shylock is Shakespeare, is not the literary device of mere metaphor, but rather it carries the strength of a simile. The front cover flap states: ?Kenneth Gross posits that the figure of Shylock is so powerful because he is the voice of Shakespeare himself.? In his exegesis of the play, Gross provides the reader with ample information regarding biblical passages, the historical period with locations, authors who have given Shylock an afterlife, and other nuances of his field of study as aids to grasp his treatment. But, I must sound a note of caution. This tome is not for everyone, for you are entering the world of the academic elite ? his book was published by the University of Chicago Press, a premier scholarly press. The author, like a mature operatic baritone, is in full command of his voice. Therefore, I strongly suggest, unless you have in some manner even somewhat approached his level of erudition, to arm yourself first by reading the Merchant of Venice, and then have at your disposal: Bible, bible dictionary, English dictionary (for words like ?trochee and spondee? or ?golem and goyim?), biographical dictionary (who are all these authors I might not have read), and last, it helps to have the follwing consulting friends: Rabbi, Catholic priest, Protestant pastor, who know their respective theologies. This caveat is not given for discouragement, but rather for encouragement, first to those who desire to further their knowledge in this discipline, and second to those who wish to explore this literary realm for maybe the first time. For the latter, this is a chance to gain personal credit in a graduate course without paying tuition.
Finally, I must give praise to Jill Shimabukuro, who did the book and jacket design. Her jacket design, in its beautiful simplicity, reminded me of the exquisite label on a bottle of Chateau Lafite. You know that within lies the best of the vintner?s growth. This is a book that you don?t want to put down, but you must in order to reflect and ponder over the author?s insights ? to chew, digest, and assimilate them before perusing their richness once again.
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