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Messing with Shakespeare ‘not good education’

Jul 30th, 2008 | By | Category: Featured Article, News

CHANGING Shakespeare because he might appear racist to someone is not the best way to educate children, say experts.

Students at a Wellington school changed the words “liver of blaspheming Jew” to “liver of blaspheming kangaroo” in their production of Macbeth, because one of the student directors is Jewish and felt the original line would be offensive to Jewish people.

Jewish community representative David Moskovitz says while it is good to heighten peoples’ sensitivities to racism, altering an artist’s work is disingenuous and unfair to the subject matter.

“The action may have been done from the best of intentions but it wasn’t necessarily carried out in the right way,” he says.

“If someone changed my art I would be angry, maybe the teacher could use the issue as an opportunity to explore anti-Semitism.”

An advisor at the Human Rights Commission, Julie Watson, says historical works should always be looked at in the context in which they were written.

“If they are studied at school, the teacher should spend some time talking about the political, cultural and social contexts in which the play was written. If it is to be publically performed, programme notes should outline the same issues.”

Veteran Wellington actor Peter Vere-Jones has played many Shakespearean roles and says as a liberal he believes it is important to understand the context in which a line was written.

He says it is impossible to say whether Shakespeare was or wasn’t anti-Semitic.

Many analysts of Shakespeare take what a character says as his personal opinion: “But there are too many contradictions in his plays to make a judgement, and Shakespeare was too clever to allow his own prejudices to dictate how he wrote the plays.”

He says he believes Shakespeare does more to help people understand the human condition than he does to reinforce any prejudicial stereotypes that may have been around at the time.

The change was made to a recent production of Macbeth at Clifton Terrace Model School, where students removed an anti-Semitic reference from the witch’s speech during the famous Cauldron scene, when the witches add “liver of blaspheming Jew” to their list of poisons and vile ingredients.

PICTURE: Shylock the Jew in the Merchant of Venice, considered anti-Semitic by some.

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is is a Whitireia Journalism student who has a passion for music, fashion, films and contemporary novels. She plans to work in radio and television.
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