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Representations of Shylock in Arnold Wesker’s The Merchant, Howard Jacobson’s Shylock is My Name and Clive Sinclair’s Shylock Must Die

Brauner, D. ORCID: (2021) Representations of Shylock in Arnold Wesker’s The Merchant, Howard Jacobson’s Shylock is My Name and Clive Sinclair’s Shylock Must Die. Humanities, 10 (2). p. 59. ISSN 2076-0787

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To link to this item DOI: 10.3390/h10020059


Given the centrality of Shakespeare to the Western canon and, more specifically, to the idea of a national English literary tradition, and given that Shylock is one of his most (in)famous creations, it is hardly surprising that he has proved irresistible to a number of Anglo-Jewish authors. Attempts to rehabilitate Shylock and/or to reimagine his fate are not a recent phenomenon. In the post-war era, however, the task of revisiting Shakespeare’s play took on a new urgency, particularly for Jewish writers. In this essay I look at the ways in which three contemporary British Jewish authors—Arnold Wesker, Howard Jacobson and Clive Sinclair—have revisited The Merchant of Venice, focusing on the figure of Shylock as an exemplar of what Bryan Cheyette has described as “the protean instability of ‘the Jew’ as a signifier”. Wesker, Jacobson and Sinclair approach Shakespeare’s play and its most memorable character in very different ways but they share a sense that Shylock symbolically transgresses boundaries of time and space—history and geography—and is a mercurial, paradoxical figure: villain and (anti-)hero; victim and perpetrator; scapegoat and scourge. Wesker’s play is more didactic than the fiction of Jacobson and Sinclair but ultimately his Shylock eludes the historicist parameters that he attempts to impose on him, while the Shylocks of Shylock is My Name and Shylock Must Die transcend their literary-historical origins, becoming slippery, self-reflexive, protean figures who talk back to Shakespeare, while at the same time speaking to the concerns of contemporary culture. Keywords: Shylock; The Merchant; Shylock is My Name; Shylock Must Die; Arnold Wesker; Howard Jacobson; Clive Sinclair

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > English Literature
Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Identities
ID Code:97014


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