Shylock: The Infamous Secret Jew
Despite its deliberate failure to meet the Victorian vogue for spectacular theater,1 Henry Irving's Lyceum production of The Merchant of Venice set "a record without precedent in the annals of the stage" (L. Irving 356). Mounted and rehearsed in the space of three weeks—Irving having opted to avoid "hampering the natural action of the piece with any unnecessary embellishment" (H. Irving, MV preface)—the production, which opened on 1 November 1879, ran for seven straight months, or two hundred and fifty consecutive performances. During the course of that season it was estimated that "330,000 people had visited the Lyceum," generating receipts amounting to some fifty-nine thousand pounds (L. Irving 357). Subsequently, Irving revived the production "nearly every season, took it on every tour, played it perhaps a thousand times, and was still playing it the week he died, more than twenty-five years after the first night" (Hughes 227).2 On 14 February 1880 the fact that The Merchant had "for the first time in history [been] played for a hundred nights in succession" (Theatre 1/3/80, 188) was celebrated with dinner for three hundred at the Lyceum at a cost of six hundred pounds (L. Irving 357). And nearly ten years after it opened, the production still had enough cachet that Irving was summoned by the Prince of Wales to perform the trial scene from The Merchant of Venice along with The Bells...
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A Jew, in the dictionary, is one who is descended from the ancient tribes of Judea, or one who is regarded as descended from that tribe. That's what it says in the dictionary; but you and I know what a Jew is—One Who Killed Our Lord .. . All right. I'll clear the air once and for all, and confess. Yes, we did it. I did it, my family. I found a note in my basement. It said: "We killed him. signed, Morty." And a lot of people say to me, "Why did you kill Christ?" . . . We killed him because he didn't want to become a doctor, that's why we killed him. (Bruce 40-41)
Ruy Lopez, a Jewish Portuguese doctor and personal physician to Elizabeth I, was accused of conspiring to poison the monarch, found guilty, and publicly hanged in June 1594. The affair was widely considered to have inspired both the figures of Shylock and of Marlowe's Barrabas, since it was believed to be roughly contemporaneous with the first productions of both The Merchant of Venice and The Jew of Malta. While it now seems possible that Lopez was indeed involved in espionage and had, in fact, intended an attempt on the queen's life,10 what is at issue here is not Lopez's demonstrable innocence or guilt but, rather, the manner in which his story, as it was understood at the time, seized the attention of a number of critics and historians in the latter decades of the nineteenth century. I shall return to...
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The question of the Lopez affair and its relation to the figure of Shylock drew the attention of a number of critics and historians in the latter decades of the nineteenth century.15 These accounts portray Lopez's treachery, his influence on the design of Shylock, and Shakespeare's intentions in representing the Jew. The study 1 would like to focus on, however, is the one that addressed itself most directly to the Victorian Shakespeare establishment and which was, most obviously, part of the wave of response to Irving's Merchant of Venice, appearing as it did in the Gentleman's Magazine in February 1880, about halfway through the production's opening run. Moreover, the essay, entitled "The Original of Shylock," deserves particular notice here not only for "attract[ing] . . . the attention of Shakespearean scholars" (SSL 3) but also for its part in launching one of the Victorian era's most distinguished literary careers. The eighteen-year-old undergraduate author of the essay went by the forenames Solomon Lazarus. But, for the sake of his career he changed his name, it is popularly believed, on the advice of Oxford's Benjamin Jowett, ironically, a man who had himself been accused of excessive displays of religious radicalism.16 As an eminent Shakespearean, editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, first biographer of Queen Victoria, fellow of the British Academy, founding member of the English...
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Examination and Study Guides and Other Editions of Shakespeare and The Merchant of Venice
Barnett, T. Duff, ed. Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. London: Bell, 1893,
Crook, C. W., ed. The Merchant of Venice. London: Ralph, Holland, 1907.
Meiklejohn, J. M. D., ed. Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. London: Chambers, 1879.
The Merchant of Venice. As presented at the Lyceum Theatre under the Management of Mr. Henry Irving. London: Chiswick, 1881.
Verity, A. W., ed. The Merchant of Venice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1912.
Wood, Stanley. Supplement to The Merchant of Venice. Questions and Notes. Dinglewood Shakespeare Manuals. Manchester: Heywood, 1891.
Other Primary Sources
Bruce, Lenny. The Essential Lenny Bruce. New York: Ballantine, 1967.
Conway, Moncure D. "The Pound of Flesh." Nineteenth Century May 1880: 828-39.
Cook, Dutton. "The Merchant of Venice": Nights at the Play. London: Chatto and Windus, 1883. 2:223-27.
Dimock, Arthur. "The Conspiracy of Dr. Lopez." English Historical Review July 1894: 440-72.
E. R. R. "Ellen Terry as Portia." Theatre 1 Jan. 1880: 49.
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