Monday, June 27, 2011

Suburbs of Our Discontent

Forget the Jewish/Christian Thing . . . Shylock's a Scapegoat for Straight-Up Parental Rage

This weekend I saw an incredible Merchant of Venice at the Shakespeare Theater in Washington D.C. One of the best parts was Shylock's rant about wanting to see his daughter dead at his feet, with the jewels she stole from him in her ears.

I have to say, this performance convinced me that there could be a truly sympathetic explanation of Shylock's over-the-top rage: He's just really, really pissed off at his daughter, and as a result, says hostile things that he will later regret. Did Shakespeare mean for us parents to see that and think "Yikes--I sure know that feeling"? Or did he believe that we would subconsciously register this thought and then project our own maternal and paternal self-loathing onto Shylock?

The scene reminded me of two books I've read recently in my book club: This Life is in Your Hands by Melissa Coleman and The Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore. Both excellent. Both involving horrible parents whose rash admonitions of their children have tragic consequences. Both books will make you feel really good about your own parenting, but will also scare the hell out of you about the times you've acted like those demon-parents yourself.


  1. dudes, this could be a NYTBR back-page essay.

    right now there's this trend in furious parenting books (Go the F to Sleep, name a few more), and Shakespeare was the original gangsta on this front. between shylock/jessica, lear/cordelia, or name some other dyad...

    and he was the original Tiger Mother -- prospero/miranda and, i dunno, some other shakespearean controlling parent/malleable (or NOT malleable, 'cause one of hte Tiger Mom's kids wasn't -- the essay structure is flexible here!) to illustrate how THAT trend in parenting wiriting is also covered in shakespeare.

    you could also say that the "free-range parenting" movement is covered too, by showing any of shakespeare's distracted/neglectful parents. or, um, Gertrude.

    i dunno, i feel there is POTENTIAL here. you name some parenting book trends, you place 'em in shakespearean context, you get that primo real estate and you get a book deal. DUNZO.