Weekend in Quest 2017 Study Sessions
"Who Is the Jew?"
Anti-Semitism in Shakespeare and Philip Roth?
Scholar in Residence:
Prof. Roger Porter, Reed College
Prof. Porter will give four lectures on the following topics:
Session 1. ”How to understand Jewishness in The Merchant of Venice”
The character of Shylock has always been a lightening rod regarding the play’s possible anti-Semitism. Prof. Porter will look at the history of attitudes toward the protagonist and the play, but more crucially how Shakespeare attempts to shape a range of responses toward Shylock, especially in the depiction of Shylock’s relation to the Gentiles with whom he has so many adversarial encounters, leading eventually to his humiliation, forced conversion, and ruin.
Session 2. “Is Roth a Self-Hating Jew?”
In raising questions regarding whether Roth is, if not mildly anti-Semitic himself, then a writer conducing to anti-Jewish attitudes in others, Prof. Porter will speak briefly about Portnoy’s Complaint, Roth’s essays “On Portnoy’s Complaint” and “Writing About Jews,” and finally the writer’s fantasy in his novel The Ghost Writer, where he imagines a romance with Anne Frank (who has somehow survived the camps) and the novel’s attack on Jews’ self-serving reverence for that young girl.
Session 3. “The Human Stain and the Relation of Jews and Blacks”
Prof. Porter will focus on Roth’s great novel The Human Stain, a work less controversial regarding the problem of anti-Semitism than a narrative about relations between Jews and African-Americans. The plot, involving a Black professor at a small New England college who has passed successfully as a Jew, speaks to how difficult it is to know definitively a person’s true identity.
Session 4. “The Plot Against America: Can it Happen Here?”
This novel is Roth’s dark fantasy of a tide of anti-Semitism sweeping America in 1940 leading to the election of the Nazi sympathizer Charles Lindbergh as President. Roth writes a “counter-factual historical novel,” but there is plenty of truth to Lindbergh’s coziness with Nazis and his adulation of the Jew-baiting Henry Ford. The world of Newark in the 1940s is seen entirely through the eyes of the small boy, and Roth, whose fictional father sometimes criticized what he regarded as the novelist’s less-than reliable Jewishness, here gains young Philip’s admiration for his heroic opposition to the threats of domestic anti-Semitism.