The Human Touch

Tuesday evening, at hte Casino Theatre, I saw, and heard, the Russian Grand Opera Company in a performance of Rimsky – Korsa koff’s Orental phantasy, “Le Coq d “Or.’ Opera, at its msot probable, is a tissue of impro babilities, but this is such pure fairy tale that there’s even an as trologer in it who, after he’s been laid out cold, appears in the epilogue to tell the audience, in good baritone, if my ears don’t deceive me, that the whole thing isn’t kosker, that it’s all a fairy tale and that only he, and the Queen-for desiring whom he had been struck down by the King-are real.

But as there are sermons in stones and books in the running brooks (Shakespeare), so many a moral, and a modern moral at that, be extracted from a gorgeous, timeless Oriental fable. Two morals, in fact. The first is that there’s no fool like an old fool, and the second, of particular pertinency to the legal profession, is that he who violates his contractual obligation-even if the obligation hasn’t a notary-does so at his own peril. You see, the old king, Dodon, (Max Pantelieff) had promissed his astrologer (Vexhislav Mamonoff) that in return for the magic bird, the olden cockerel, which from its high perch in the tower from its high perch in the tower gives the alarm whenever waring neighbor tribesmen approach, he, the king, would grant the astrologer what ever he desired. Well, the astrologer, old and doddering as he was, or perhops because he was old and oddering, happened to disire the ravishing Queen of Shemakhan (Marguerit Hawkins) whom the King had brought back from his opera bouffe battle, but the king, defying his contractual obligation and being no less a fool about women than the astrologer pretended to be, said No, and so, in vevenge the astrologer’s golden cockerel pecked the king to death, and a pleasant evening was had by all.

Tuesday night was a first night for me, in the sense that it ws the first time I had heard “Coq d’Or,” although i had been hearing, again and again, pieces like the Hymn to the Sun, and the cry of the golden cockerel and the procession from the thired act, over the radio and as concert pieces. I an more likely to hear an opera these days for the fifth time, than the first time, but I am glad that hearing “Coq d’Or” for the first time, I heard it in the language in which its libertto was wirtten, Russian. Not that I know Russian, but it seems silly to be hearing a Russian work in Italian, or an Italian work in Russian. If the Casino Theatre performance lacked some ofthe pomp and panoply of a Metropolitan Opera performace, it was nonetheless performed in the spirit of the thing. The performance was jolly.

ABOUT “THE MERCHANT OF VENICE”

This seems to be the proper place for me to put in my little oar on the debate as to whether Shakespeares’s “The Merchant of Venice” is anti-Semitic or not. I have so deep a respect, it amounts almost to veneration, for the {SPAN}#orks{/SPAN} of Shakespeare that my {SPAN}#rst{/SPAN} of his shall be censored, {SPAN}for#idden{/SPAN} or edited. We derive that verb of contmept, to bowdlerize, from the efforts of a clergyman called Dr. Bowdler to purity the works of the Elizabethan dramatist for school room use. The proposal made by Melchior, the Metropolitan’s German tenor, to cut down the langth of Wagner operas, seens to me far less sacrilegious than any proposal to touch Shakespeare, partly because, I suppose, Shakespeare is a loyalty carried over from high school days and my Wagner enthusiasm is of more recent origing. Let us put the debate an another ground. Let us ask, not whether “The merchant of Venice” should be edited, or forbidden, but simply whether it is or is not anti-Semitic. There is enough in it, I am sorry to say, to convict the play of anti-Semitism, in spite of the moderating influence on anti-Jewish passions which must be exereised on the sensitive listener by that speech of Shylock’s beginning: “He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my aains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies; and what’s his reason. I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes?”

And so no. I should say that speech is one of the noblest anti-Semitic speeches ever made, but that none the less the burden of the play is anti-Semitic. The most unfortunate thing about “The Merchant of Venice” is that at the time it was wirtten and produced there were not so many Jew-haters to be stirred up by it, or so many fews around the place to suffer from the consequences of such stirred-up passions. I can well believe that performances of the play had to be forbidden is Schleswig-Holstein because anti-Semitic riots used to follow. Yet even accepting the fact that there were such riots, might they not have been instigated with less trouble than that involved in putting on a play, of Shakespeare’s. If there are anti-Semites about and Jews for them to wereak their hate upon, that hate can be stirred as easily by the singing of the Horst Wessel song, for example than by the production of “The Merchant of Venice.”

There is unforunately on pat answer to the question whether “The Merchant of Venice”is anti-Semitic or not. One must bring into the question the added questions of where? and among whom? A debate in Detroit cannot settle the matter for New York, and a debate in Johannesburg cannot settle it for Calcutta. Each community must decide for itself how much anti-Semitic dynamite there is in “The Merchant of Venice” and act accordingly, without showing panic and unreason. Sespite mu veneration for Shakespears, as written, I believe that Ludwing Lewis#n performed a valiant job of poetic emendation in writing his novel, “The Last Days of Shylock,” for in it he not only carried the character forward from the last curtin of the play but gave Shylock’s early, middle and last days a Jewish motivation about which Shakespeare could not have had the slightest inkling.

Jews who have not read this novel should do so; non-Jews who think that there must be some truth which pertains to the Jews as a race in the worst charcteristies of Shylock might read the book, with profit ancf pleasure, but no mob incluned to use a performance of the play as a bellows on thir hate of the Jew will pause long engought to read a novel, even so cmomparatively short a one, be fore venting their hate on the Jewish quarter in their communnity. You see in what a quandry a Shakespeare-loving Jew can get.

The Human Touc appears every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.

NEXT STORY