1st Edition

Reading Shakespeare in Jewish Theological Frameworks Shylock Beyond the Holocaust

By Caroline Wiesenthal Lion Copyright 2023
    240 Pages
    by Routledge

    240 Pages
    by Routledge

    Reading Shakespeare in Jewish Theological Frameworks: Shylock Beyond the Holocaust uses Jewish theology to mount a courageous new reading of a four-hundred-year-old play, The Merchant of Venice. While victimhood and antisemitism have been the understandable focus of the Merchant critical history for decades, Lion urges scholars, performers, and readers to see beyond the racism in Shakespeare's plays by recovering Shakespearean themes of potentiality and human flourishing as they emerge within the Jewish tradition itself. Lion joins the race conversation in Shakespeare studies today by drawing on the intellectual history and oppression of the Jewish people, borrowing from thinkers Franz Rosenzweig and Abraham Joshua Heschel as well as Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Jacques Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas, and rabbis from the Talmud to today. This volume interweaves post-confessional, Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, and mystical ideas with Shakespeare's poetry and opens conversations of prophecy, love, spirituality, care, and community. It concludes with brief critical sketches of Antony and Cleopatra, Hamlet, and Macbeth to demonstrate that Shakespeare when interpreted through Jewish theological frameworks can point to post-credal solutions and transformed societal paradigms of repair that encourage action and the shaping of a finer world.



    Caroline Wiesenthal Lion is a research associate at the New Swan Shakespeare Center, the University of California, Irvine. She has taught at and/or received faculty and research grants from Rogue Community College (Oregon), Southern Oregon University, and the University of Birmingham, UK. She holds a PhD from the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham.  In the past, graduate studies at the Tisch School at New York University in Dramatic Writing brought her to the award-winning Magic Theatre of San Francisco where she served as the literary manager. She has been rabbinically trained at the Academy for Jewish Religion (California), ALEPH, and the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem. She has received notable endorsements for her fiction, her rabbinic teachings have been published, and her plays produced. The widow of John Lion, founder of the Magic Theatre, she is most proud of their four talented children.

    "Anyone interested in Shakespeare's engagement with scripture will, I hope, be as thrilled as I am to read Caroline Lion's account of The Merchant of Venice. Her work is itself an epiphany for Jewish Shakespeare studies. As a close reader Lion is intimate with God and pastorally sensitive. I hope she continues to read and study - and tell us about - the Hebrew Bible in Shakespeare."

    Rev. Dr Paul Edmondson, Head of Research, The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, UK, and The Church of England

    "Caroline Lion invites us to see how The Merchant of Venice points beyond the lethal racist and capitalist logic it otherwise dramatizes. An unusual and imaginative, a hopeful and a timely book."

    Professor Ewan Fernie, The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham, UK

    "A fresh and exciting examination of one of the most influential plays ever written. Caroline Lion gives us an original analysis of The Merchant of Venice from a Jewish theological perspective and brings us fascinating new insights."

    Susannah Heschel, author of The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany

    "In this original reappraisal of The Merchant of Venice, Caroline Lion draws on Rabbinic debate, Kabbalistic tropes, Biblical images, and modern Jewish thought in order to shake up our preconceptions about Shakespeare’s moral worlds. Practicing critical magnanimity, Lion seeks moments of epiphany in which Shakespeare’s characters intuit horizons of belonging that beckon in the intervals of interrupted sacrifice."

    Julia Reinhard Lupton, author of Shakespeare Dwelling: Designs for the Theater of Life

    "The literary heritage of the Jewish people (not for nothing known as "the People of the Book") has expounded on its sacred texts through commentaries and homiletical exposition (midrash) that often goes far beyond the actual text. In this work, Caroline Lion continues this venerable tradition in providing new insights and enriching exposition of a Shakespearean classic, illuminating many aspects of the Jewish experience and the human condition within and beyond the work itself."

    Rabbi David Rosen, KSG CBE, International Director of Interreligious Affairs, AJC

    "Written with unmistakable intellectual passion and drawing on deep learning in both criticism of the drama and Jewish theology, this volume represents a highly original and valuable contribution to Shakespeare studies."

    Professor Sir Stanley Wells, Honorary President, The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, UK

    "From Freud to Derrida, ‘Jewish Shakespeare’ has reminded us that ‘what’s to come is still unsure’. In her deep meditation on Shylock and the Shoah, Caroline challenges this perpetual adventism with the epiphany of 'a good deed in a naughty world'. And as Lion shows, 'How far that little candle throws his beams!'"

    Richard Wilson, author of Worldly Shakespeare: The Theatre of Our Good Will