Last week, we interviewed Barry Edelstein, a Shakespeare expert currently in the middle of a major production of The Merchant of Venice, to talk about the uproar surrounding the character Shylock, who recently appeared as a clue in a crossword puzzle in a number of newspapers. The clue “Shylock, e.g.” yielded the answer “Jew,” which yielded the ire of the Anti-Defamation League.
In response to our interview with Barry Edelstein, who says that we shouldn’t allow Shylock to be defined by people who distort Shakespeare, we received a letter in response from Abe Foxman, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League. Here’s what Mr. Foxman had to say:
To the Editor:
Barry Edelstein, quoted in Adam Chandler’s piece in “The Daily Scroll” on the Shylock crossword puzzle incident, misses the point. The question is not one’s interpretation of the play, “The Merchant of Venice” as to whether Shylock was solely an anti-Semitic stereotype or not. Crossword puzzle users do not get into these complex analyses.
What the makers of the puzzle understood in writing the clue is that most readers will recognize the name as representing a Jew, but, of course, a very particular kind of Jew, a usurer and heartless avenger. As Edelstein himself recognizes, over the centuries that has been the perception of who Shylock is and what he represents.
Our point was that in looking for a clue to provide the answer “Jew” to fill in the boxes, the crossword maker could have chosen any one of tens of clues which would have produced the answer of Jew. To select the one that conjures up in most peoples’ minds the worst stereotype of a Jew was exactly what was so offensive.
We were pleased that Tribune Media Services, as well as The Los Angeles Times and Hartford Courant, apologized for this mistake. Edelstein’s understanding of the complexity of Shylock as a complex character is an interesting subject for discussion. That, however, has nothing to do with this incident.
Abraham H. Foxman
From the editors of Tablet Magazine.