The merchant of venice in mandatory palestine and the state of Israel

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In the Zionist imaginary, Shakespeare’s Jew has served as a figure who encapsulates what was seen as a dark Jewish diasporic past, representing not only the pre-modern Jewish occupation of moneylending but also the continuing isolation and persecution of the Jew by Christian host societies. Shylock thus embodied an aspect of the Jewish experience that had been rejected by most branches of Zionism, namely an urban capitalist who derived his livelihood from charging interest, a person cordoned off from the genuine productivity of physical labor and from the values of universal humanism. From the perspective of the modern Hebrew stage, both before and after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, the mounting of The Merchant of Venice exposed a deep cultural conflict: on the one hand Israeli theater artists claimed full rights of access to the western theatrical canon, while on the other hand they felt obliged to challenge its stockpile of anti-Semitic images. Serious Hebrew engagement with the play began in 1929 when the full text of The Merchant of Venice was translated into Hebrew by American-educated poet Simon Halkin (1899–1987). Reflecting more contemporary linguistic norms, the play was retranslated in the early 1970s by Avraham Oz (b. 1944), a native Israeli Shakespeare scholar. A third translation, prepared for a revival of the play by the Habima Theatre in 2012, was produced by musician and professional drama translator, Dori Parnes (b. 1963). To date, the play has been produced in Hebrew six times on mainstream stages: (1) in 1936, by the Habima Theatre (which became Israel’s national theater in 1958), directed by the German-Jewish director Leopold Jessner (Figures 18, 19); (2) in 1959, by Habima, under the direction of Tyron Guthrie, who had previously directed the play in Stratford, Ontario (Figures 20, 21); (3) in 1972, by the Cameri Theatre (now the Municipal Theater of the City of Tel Aviv), under the direction of Yossi Yizraeli, the first Israeli-born director to tackle the play (Figure 22); (4) in 1980, again by Cameri, under the direction of British guest-director Barry Kyle; (5) in 1994, once more by Cameri, directed by Omri Nitzan, its artistic director and a native Israeli (Figure 23); (6) in 2012, by Habima, directed by Ilan Ronen, artistic director of the theater, performed first at the Globe in London and subsequently at Habima’s theater in Tel Aviv (Figure 24).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWrestling with Shylock
Subtitle of host publicationJewish Responses to the Merchant of Venice
EditorsEdna Nahshon, Michael Shapiro
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages30
ISBN (Electronic)9780511845789
ISBN (Print)9781107010277
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Edna Nahshon and Michael Shapiro 2017.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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