The Truth about Shylock

The Truth about Shylock

The Truth about Shylock

The Truth about Shylock

Excerpt

Some honest members of the audience at the New York production of Jean Genet The Blacks have informed the director, Gene Frankel, that they did not understand the play. "I tell them," says Mr. Frankel, "not to try to understand it all. There are parts of this play even I don't understand as the director."

Our times are getting to be more and more remarkable. A graduate student at Columbia University has just learned from an electronic computer the answer to a question which has been argued for decades by classical scholars: Is The Iliad the work of one poet or several poets? The machine has settled the matter: There was only one Homer. Over a period of four years, we learn, the young scholar "translated" the poem for the computer; the machine gave him his answer in only five hours.

If audiences and directors are not to trouble themselves to understand the plays on view and if, on the other hand, matters requiring the subtlest esthetic awareness are to be relegated to machines, are we to anticipate the total discrediting of human understanding and sensibilities? Will the course of progress inevitably lead to the installation of devices at theaters and opera houses for determining with mathematical accuracy what we are to feel about the works and performances presented?

Such a day may arrive. But while it is still in the future, I have felt obliged, with the full knowledge that at any moment such machines will render obsolete my and all preceding speculations, to contribute my own and (with shame I confess it) merely human conclusions on a question as much disputed as the Homeric one: What did Shakespeare mean by Shylock?

When he created him Shakespeare could not have anticipated that Shylock would become the emblem about which so much contention would rage. Shakespeare's money-lender is now the symbol for those . . .

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