Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.
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Sunday 2 March 2008

Great minds

A group of Jewish schoolgirls in London boycotted an examination requiring them to answer questions on Shakespeare, whom they believed, based on the portrayal of Shylock in Merchant of Venice, was anti-semitic.

Addressing this charge in the Telegraph, Daniel Hannan dismisses the accusation, thus:

No, of course he wasn’t. His universalism, his grandeur, the wholeness of his understanding, makes such questions meaningless. Shakespeare cannot be confined by any set of beliefs: his genius always bursts out, putting both sides of a case far more eloquently than any other advocate. When you try and conscript him to a narrow cause, you make yourself look narrow. Shakespeare’s canon will broaden your experience more than your experience can ever broaden it.
But argues that Shylock has been, perhaps, the greatest source of trouble for the Jews:
. . . on balance, I’m with the pupils at Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School. Shylock, precisely because of the depth of his character, precisely because his motives are made comprehensible, is the most dangerous archetype of the malevolent Jew ever created. He’s not just a nasty piece of work; he possesses the character traits that anti-Semites have projected onto Jews down the ages. He is greedy, legalistic, clever and lacking in compassion: a schemer who secretly loathes the Christians he lends money to.

I feel awkward every time I watch the play, as many gentiles do. I can only imagine how much more uneasy I would feel if I were Jewish. Harold Bloom, perhaps the most dedicated Shakespearean of our age, is beguiled by the play, and by the ambiguities of Shylock in particular; yet he well recognises how much it has worsened the lot of European Jewry. “Shakespeare’s persuasiveness has its unfortunate aspects; The Merchant of Venice may have been more of an incitement to anti-Semitism than The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, though less than the Gospel of John. We pay a price for what we gain from Shakespeare”.

And this seems to be the nub of a contemporary problem: that great, not narrow minds, can take positions of high moral grandeur, dismissive of the consequences for others.

Draped in despair but keeping up appearances

From this weekend's The Australian

THE last complete sentence my mother uttered before her death was said in a whisper, her hand shakily pointing towards my sister's neck: "I like your necklace." Following this utterance her speech centre failed, then everything else failed, and she died.

I grew up in a family where appearances mattered. My grandparents on both sides were Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe, decanted from a remote area of Polish farmland into the English class system, and they believed in a series of maxims, such as, "The only thing worse than being skint is looking as if you're skint", and most significantly, "Only the rich can afford cheap shoes".

So I have never taken to the idea that clothes, shoes, handbags, hairdressing, manicures are part of the realm of the superficial, the trivial. That the high-minded woman should care little for what she wears. For we are clothed almost 24 hours of the day and, like it or not, we are looked at and judged. It came to me a few years ago that you cannot have depths without surfaces, it's a physical impossibility, and how the two cohere is what makes life interesting. There shouldn't be shame in being interested in fashion.

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