Munby's major question on Merchant is: How can a play so terribly racist be read as a comedy in today's age? His answer is: It shouldn't be. And yet unlike Darko Tresnjak's magnificent transformation of the play into a tragedy, into Shylock's tragedy, Munby commits fully to the text of Merchant as a comedy. Instead of working against that clear intention, he works it against the audience. The persistent question Munby poses to his audience is: "Why are you laughing? This isn't funny!"
He opens the play with an introductory masque, singing, dancing, music and drums, the revelry of a Venetian street carnival. (There is brilliant music throughout the production, with a wide range of meanings.) The actors don't just dance onstage, they dance into the aisles, egging on the audience, and then they start to clap. They clap in rhythm with the drums, the clapping spreads from actor to actor and then, with encouragement from the actors, it spreads to the audience. It built and built, filling the theater, until two Jews, Shylock and a companion, clad in red caps marking them as Jews, blundered through the carnival by mistake. The music stops. The revelers, led by Antonio, spit on and then savagely beat Shylock and his coreligionist. The very same revelers the audience was just clapping along with!!!! (I was not clapping along. The audience participation bits throughout the show did not work on me. I do not identify with the Venetians. I stand with Shylock.) Watching the Venetians beat Shylock was the first time this play made me tear up, but it was not the last. It was just so visceral, watching a Jew beaten on stage for the amusement of the Christian heroes of the play. This is not ancient history, you know. At intermission the couple behind me was reading from the program a small historical note about Elizabethan anti-semitism and snickering. One of them said to the other "It says the Elizabethans were anti-semitic. No shit!" it was such classic New York liberal superiority. I wanted to turn to them and say "21st Century Americans are anti-semitic, too! No shit!" I restrained myself.
Later, Shylock's servant Gobbo grapples with whether to steal from his master the Jew. A devil sits on one shoulder, an angel on the other. Gobbo pulls two people from the audience and brings them on stage to pantomime as the devil and the angel. He enlists the audience to take their behalfs, playing up the comic bawdiness of Gobbo and his ridiculous call and response games until half the audience is cheering for Gobbo to steal from the Jew without realizing it. (I realized it. The audience participation bits did not work on me. I stand with Shylock.)
Again and again, this was Munby's solution to the problem of the play's comic racism- to trick the audience into laughing at it and then pull the curtain back and reveal what they'd just laughed at. But I was never laughing, so I just had the uncomfortable feeling throughout of watching an audience all around me laugh at anti-semitic jokes. Jokes at my expense. It was... revealing.
Merchant is not only the anti-semitic Shakespeare play, though. It's also otherwise racist! People forget that in Morocco's scene there is Portia's infamous line about his complexion, that Aragon's scene is just a long series of ethnic jokes... Munby didn't seek to undermine these scenes at all. He played them as ethnic comedy, as they are written, and I suppose he trusted that the lesson he was teaching in the scenes about the Jews would echo into these scenes, or perhaps he thought a few jokes about savage Africans and fussy Spaniards were funny, or perhaps he just needed to beef up the comedy for his finale to land as hard as he wanted, but I wanted more from these scenes.
What of Shylock? Pryce's Shylock was good, but not great. He was a nervous creature, much abused and much suffering from the abuse, but I actually believed in the negotiation scene that when he spoke of the pound of flesh as his 'merry bond', he meant it. There was little sinister, manipulative intent, little of the chessmaster. This was a reactive Shylock. Pryce and Munby's interpretation of this scene seemed to be that after repeated insulting of Shylock by Antonio, Antonio has the temerity to actually ask a favor of Shylock, and yet even as he asks the favor, Antonio cannot disguise his hatred of Shylock. Shylock sees this, sees how in the midst of begging a favor Antonio cannot resist throwing Shylock's Chumash to the ground and calling him the devil, and sees an opportunity to turn the tables. Not to kill Antonio, but for once in his life to get to laugh at Antonio, rather than the reverse. Refusing interest, demanding a pound of flesh as bond, it is not bloodthirst but a calculated insult of Antonio's worth as a man and a merchant. Only after Jessica's betrayal is Shylock reduced to nothing but vengeance. His kinsman Tubal feeds him this vengeance as an antidote to his grief over losing his daughter: With every yet more sorrowful detail about her departure, Tubal soothes Shylock's fraying nerves by reminding him of Antonio's poor business fortunes, reminding him that at least he will gain his petty insult on the evil merchant as consolation. Except that as Shylock's worldview warps, he no longer sees it as just being an insult. He wants blood. He wants this horrible Christian society that he is trapped in to inflict punishment on Antonio by its own rules, in lieu of restoring Jessica to him.
Jessica's relationship with her father is strained but heartfelt. It is clear that growing up without her mother in the house of Shylock was not easy for her, that she is not leaving for Lorenzo entirely because she loves Lorenzo, but because she knows it will hurt her father. In their opening scene, they bicker at each other in 20th century Yiddish theater Yiddish. (I'm unclear on the historical accuracy of this. Well, okay, I'm half-unclear. I am sure that two Venetian Jews from the 15th century would not talk in 20th century Yiddish theater Yiddish, but I'm not sure if they would have spoken a German-inflected Jewish dialect, as the staging suggests, or if they would have spoken some form of Judeo-Italian, or if they as Northern Italians would have spoken some combination of the two. I just don't know enough about the historical linguistics.) Shylock is trying to impose rules on her for her own safety, but because of who he is, because of the distance between the two of them, he cannot explain himself to her, only order her around. She resents the unexplained restrictions, resents her Jewishness, her Otherness.
But kinship is not all that binds Jessica to Shylock, and it is not all that she is surrendering in joining Lorenzo. Much is made in the later Belmont scenes of Jessica's struggle to adjust to being a Christian. She doesn't know how to act, she doesn't know how to move, she doesn't know how to talk like a Christian. The second act opens with a dance sequence, in which Lorenzo gives her a crucifix necklace to wear and then tries to teach her Christian dances and she struggles and fumbles and ultimately is supplanted by her mistress Portia, who dances effortlessly with Lorenzo as Jessica looks on in frustration. Every time Portia addresses Lorenzo and Jessica, the actress emphasized a distinct pause between addressing Lorenzo and Jessica, a pause clearly intended to Other Jessica. The difference is not just about faith. In becoming a Christian she is asked to give up her culture, too, and learn a new one. I'm not sure if this was intentional, because it seems too subtle a gesture, but the first time Lorenzo gives her a glass of non-kosher wine, she holds it for a minute and then returns it to a table untouched, as if she is uncomfortable with the idea of for the first time drinking unkosher wine. She can shed her faith, but this cultural tradition of being careful about food dies hard. In her next scene we see her drinking, adjusting.
And at last we reach the finale. the much-talked about Coda which reviewers coyly mentioned as the standout feature of this production. Shylock is humbled and humiliated, his daughter's seducer Lorenzo and the hated Antonio to split his fortune, and he to be forcibly converted. When Jessica hears the news, she is brought to her knees in agony and repentance, singing in Hebrew the words of the daily Vidui confession of the Shemoneh Esrei. Pardon us, our Father, for we have sinned; forgive us, our King, for we have transgressed; for You are a good and forgiving God. Blessed are You, Hashem, gracious One who pardons abundantly. At last she feels the call of her heritage, which she has surrendered with little recompense. And then her Hebrew prayer of penitence is drowned out by Christian chanting, as Munby shows us Shylock's baptism. At last, there is no more laughter, no more comedy. The weddings and the happy endings for the Venetians are drowned out by Shylock's misery. And once more, for perhaps the fourth or fifth time, the production reduced me to tears.
Was it worth the money? I don't know. It was powerfully, effectively staged and moving. I love the context that the ending gave to the story, and am glad I got to see Munby's thoughts on the ending and on the idea of racist comedy generally. But it was painful getting that reminder of how differently I see the world than non-Jews, painful seeing all the places they laughed and I wasn't laughing. In the courtroom scene... How can you possibly laugh during the courtroom scene? They offered Shylock double his original 3,000 ducats and he hesitated for a comic moment, caught between his avarice and his wrath, and the audience laughed. The audience laughed at the idea of a Jew comically trapped between his moneylust and his bloodlust! (I didn't laugh. I stand with Shylock.) 21st Century Americans are anti-semitic, too! No shit!
I stand with Shylock, and that is sometimes a difficult thing to do, because he is a caricatured monster from a long bygone era's deepest fears. I do not stand with him because I long to hold in my hand a pound of Christian flesh, or else three thousand ducats plus interest. I stand with him because Shakespeare sometimes manages to make him look like a member of my family, and I stand with him because my family have all vowed together never to forget what it means to be a Jew.
It’s a 2% raise, which is basically cost-of-living, but still nice. After taxes I’ll have enough for one really nice meal out, three decent meals delivered, or half my groceries for the month. But I also discovered many years ago that the way to make a small amount of money seem more is to convert it into a very simple unit:
My raise is SEVERAL HUNDRED SUPERBALLS PER MONTH.
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( Capitalism and the tarot )
And I haven't even gotten to the cricket match yet. It is, in other words, an entirely brilliant and deceptively straightforward book.
Back at the start of the weekend, I was considering raising the rates for poetry on Ligature Works from $5 to $15. After looking at both my budget for the zine and the marketplace, and giving some thought to game theory, unintended consequences, and being the change I want to see in the world, I have decided that Ligature Works will simply offer $25 for all accepted submissions, poetry and prose.
The reasons for this are basically threefold.
First, having very different rates for the two forms places a material incentive on authors submitting prose works, and yet it motivates us to accept poetry over prose. If you’re mainly a poet and you see someone offering 5 times the rate for prose as poetry, mightn’t that lead you to deforming your work to hit the higher payday? It’s not entirely a hypothetical possibility. The submission guides as originally written even noted the often porous boundary between flash fiction and prose poetry.
As long as there’s economic tension between the prose market and the poetry market, all the creators out there who submit to us would be trying to steer their shorter submissions into the “prose” door while we’re encouraged to shift them into the “poetry” one, which creates an incentive for authors who have written shorter works to pad them out to a “safe” size, at which they can’t reasonably be construed as a prose poem, whether that suits the piece are not. This is contrary to our basic belief that all pieces should be the right length for themselves.
By removing the difference between how we pay for prose and how we pay for poetry, this frees up both sides to behave naturally and submit/receive each work as its own thing.
Second (and strongly related to the first), it seems hypocritical to pay one rate for prose pieces regardless of how long they are, and another rate for poetry pieces, as if the fact that poetry is often less substantial in word count and page space means that it’s inherently less valuable.
I myself write tens of thousands of words of prose fiction a month many months, and hundreds even in most of my worst months, but it’s a good month if I write one poem. Some people spend a year or more getting everything just right in their poem, going through multiple drafts and making sure every word bears the weight of the work.
Third, if the point of the “paying people” portion of this exercise is to reinforce the idea that creative work has value, we need to be prepared to provide value in return. When I set the rates at $25 for short stories and $5 for a poem, I based it on what I’ve been prepared to accept myself. And that’s fair enough. But $5 isn’t a “tacit payment” in the same way that $25 is; it’s way more tacit, way less payment.
Don’t get me wrong; I would still submit my poems to a venue that pays in the $5 range, or one that cannot offer payment. But I find myself unwilling to create a venue that values one over the other.
I’m aware that this decision is likely to have unintended consequences of its own. While the prose rate of $25 is still below what is considered “pro rates”, $25 for poetry is fairly competitive. It’s below the big markets, but above most of the small zines.
One obvious consequence of this is that our first few issues, at least, will likely be smaller than I’d envisioned, in terms of table of contents. But! That’s okay. I’m looking at the 2016 issues as a sort of “soft launch” anyway.
Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.
Fuck Everyone and Everything
I am so sick and tired of dealing with everyone’s fucking feelings and this bullshit about being cheated. Not only was Bernie not cheated out of the nomination, it’s all so besides the fucking point. Despite the sporadic few states in which Russia’s favorite fauxgressive Jill Stein and the glibertarian shitshow are on the ballot, this election is a binary construct if you intend to vote.Especially on a day like today, when the polls favor Trump, the Democrats are committing a public suicide, Bernie Sanders can't corral his supposed supporters (which anyone could have predicted; it's exactly why we were furious at his campaign tactics even when we agreed with his substance), and I want to crawl into a hole.
The Daily Report
Last week of the month, and I really need to hit this one out of the park. I need a week like my first week in June. I think I’m in a good position to have one.
This past weekend, Jack and I had a decadently life-affirming lunch with Renaissance woman C.S.E. Cooney and her mother. We talked books, movies, and what we’ve been up to lately. I talked up Ligature Works a bit, but as much as we talked about work stuff, most of the time was just catching up and hanging out, and weirdly, being able to sit there for 2-3 hours with another writer, a writer I greatly admire, and just talk might have been the biggest shot in the arm I’ve had since WisCon.
My family member in the hospital is still in the hospital, but likely to be discharged in the next few days.
Well, thanks to a very generous gift, we are now officially registered for WorldCon 75 in Helsinki. I’ll be looking at how my financial are lined up for actually getting us there after WorldCon 74. Nothing else much to report right now.
The State of the Me
I think I’m hitting my stride with this “summer” thing. Midafternoon nap and adequate hydration are really the keys.
Plans For Today
It’s a creative day. Last week’s aborted end means I’m a little ahead on Tales of MU for this week, so I’ve got that going for me.
Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.
(LJ/DW users, you may not get the folding instruction images – you can hop over to the tumblr post linked in this post to see the instructions if you’re curious.)
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Ways to Give:
Anon linked to a fundraiser for bunnycrazedgamer; Aidan is a gay transgender man who is currently unemployed and will need to leave his apartment soon. His parents don't accept his identity and he's trying to avoid moving back into an abusive household. He's raising money to find a new place while he looks for work; you can read more and support the fundraiser here.
a_phoenixdragon has been put in a precarious situation after job offers she and her husband received were retracted; they are now looking for work and fundraising to keep the lights and phones on, keep their kids fed, and keep gas in the car in the meantime. You can read more and support their fundraiser here.
erika has left her hometown after losing her job from the consequences of an assault she experienced. She's found a new job in California, but is waiting for the paperwork and start date and needs help with necessities, including food and medication, and housing in the meantime. You can read more and help her out here.
rilee16 is still struggling to cover medical expenses after two head injuries last year, and hasn't been cleared to return to work, thus can't earn money to cover basic living costs, let alone the bills they've received. You can read more and help out here.
editrx has been struggling to keep her indy bookstore afloat for this past year, and on top of her troubles there, she's now been the subject of a violent assault by her housemate. She's dealing with mounting medical bills and trauma from the assault and needs a lawyer to ensure her attacker is charged properly and convicted. You can read more and give here, or support Starcat Books by purchasing here. She also has jewelry for sale on Etsy. (Obviously if you're shopping her etail or etsy there may be a delay in delivery.)
Help For Free:
Emma is a postgraduate student working on her dissertation, studying creativity, innovation, and disruption. She has a survey available, open to anyone over the age of 18. You can read more and take the survey here; taking the survey also enters you in a prize draw for some small cash prizes.
xandrianirvana and her friend/roommate are looking for queer-friendly housing in the Seattle, WA area, preferably under $1500 a month; they are both steadily employed and have good rental records, but need to move ASAP. You can reach her at xandria.nirvana at gmail.com.
darlingarmadillo has two rooms to rent in her vintage 3-bedroom condo in Rogers Park in Chicago. Close to Northwestern and Loyola, walking distance to Howard and Jarvis Red Line stops, central air, washer/dryer in unit, two cats, $650/$750 (depending on room) plus utilities. You can read more and get in touch here.
And this has been Radio Free Monday! Thank you for your time. You can post items for my attention at the Radio Free Monday submissions form or via email at copperbadge at gmail dot com. If you're not sure how to proceed, here is a little more about what I do and how you can help (or ask for help!). If you're new to fundraising, you may want to check out my guide to fundraising here.
I’m pretty pleased, though, I’m now regularly running 3+ miles without walking for more than ninety seconds at a time. (Those ninety seconds are SO NECESSARY, however.)
Also, hello to all the DW/LJ readers out there. I took up running a while back, which you may or may not know, and I post my results when I run, so if you’re checking your flist early in the morning you’ll start to see a lot of these. :D
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And pollwise it seems as though disgruntled white men - ones who are sort of indistinguishable from the trolls who objected to Ghostbusters - are going to bring it about. With an assist from Russia, apparently, and here we thought we'd won the Cold War.
On Wednesday, in what many experts are calling a milestone in neuroscience, researchers published a spectacular new map of the brain, detailing nearly 100 previously unknown regions — an unprecedented glimpse into the machinery of the human mind.
Ed Yong @ the Atlantic: How a Guy From a Montana Trailer Park Overturned 150 Years of Biology & Emily Chung @ CBC News: Lichens aren't quite what we thought, shocked scientists discover
New yeasts found to be secret partners with known fungi and algae
John Timmer @ Ars Technica: Bird brains are dense—with neurons
birds pack neurons into their brains at densities well above densities in mammals' brains, putting some relatively compact bird brains into the same realm as those of primates when it comes to total cell counts.
Ira Glass @ This American Life: 584: For Your Reconsideration > Prologue & Benedict Carey @ NYT: Doorstep Canvassing Can Shift Views on Transgender Rights, Study Finds
The study, published by the journal Science, is a follow-up of a widely covered 2014 report that had a similar conclusion but was subsequently retracted.
Benoit Denizet-Lewis @ NYT: How Do You Change Voters’ Minds? Have a Conversation
At the Leadership Lab’s two-hour pre-canvass training that morning, volunteers were warned about “fake 10s,” people who think of themselves as against discrimination — many of them Democrats — but who can nonetheless be swayed by emotion-based appeals that provoke prejudice and fear.
Along the way,sholio made a great point about inside/outside voices, code-switching, and venting in the right way at the right time & place:
( Taste of wisdom ) Since I left the working world behind in 1993, I need reminding that spewing TMI at everyone I meet doesn't always work.
It was a very deliberate reversal of 80s comedy tropes, with Chris Helmsworth having a ball as the dim but pretty secretary who needs to be rescued. There's no romance, ones a little swoony over how pretty he is but seems to know intellectually that he'd make a terrible boyfriend. Instead there's just some really lovely female friendships (which are absolutely perfect for femslashing ;))
( Some more thoughts, no spoilers )
The diversity was very pasted on, it is at heart very much a story about White Dudes Saving The Day, and while the fact there's a teeny bit of lgbt representation is nice (and it was handled ok) it's just ambiguous enough that a determined homophobe could say they were just Very Close Friends, and homophobic censors can easily cut it entirely. On the plus side I thought they were going somewhere Very Racist with the villain and they weren't, though he's still a POC-in-latex villain (with an African accent I think? I am so bad at accents) being defeated by a white hero.
Also Uhura and her relationship with Spock is so quickly sidelined it felt like the start of a slash fic. If it had actually turned into Spock/Kirk/Bones it might almost have been worth it but no, it was no homo bromance all the way. Sulu could have had more to do as well. On the plus side, the "Strong Female Characters who are competent and not sexualised but ultimately secondary to men" approach to women in this film is still more feminist than "Into Darkness". And the new female character is conventionally attractive but noone seems to notice, it all feels like brotherly friendship (I don't think we ever see her talking to any women. In general this is not a Bechdel Test friendly movie)
As someone who used to be a HUGE fan of the original Star Trek movies I did enjoy the cuddly bromacey feels. Everyone felt more in character than in the previous two, and there was in general a cuddly, optimistic feel to the Enterprise and Federation as a whole. Also, since it would have been heartbreaking given that the actor died: nothing bad happens to Chekhov.
And it really is pretty. Lots of cool science fictiony special effects.