Review: Shylock is my Name by Howard Jacobson
I love a good Shakespearean retelling, especially if it is a play I am really familiar with. Case in point: Shylock is My Name by Howard Jacobson. A retelling of the Merchant of Venice, it provides the same story, but provides a new look at some old thoughts. Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via the Blogging for Books Program, please note all thoughts and comments are my own.
In college, I was introduced to this play via the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express troupe (the link redirects to the American Shakespeare Center). This travelling troupe did Merchant of Venice and Macbeth and I was stunned with how amazingly well they made the stories. They’d have a song before the play, and Merchant was my first introduction to Dar Williams, whose song Christians and the Pagans was covered in that show.
I cannot think of another way to best describe the titular novel. So much of the story discusses old habits vs new and fighting against any type of change. Al Pacino played Shylock in a Hollywood version of the movie, and to his credit, I was stunned at how he brought the character to life as well. The Merchant of Venice is a story about beliefs, quite possibly the most jarring and controversial of all of Shakespeare’s plays. It is also one of the most wonderful plays to learn from if you are open to its lesson. Alas, I am here for a review. So, Shylock is my Name by Howard Jacobson is what we will talk about.
Simon Strulovitch is an art dealer and widower (well, though they were divorced he mourns Ophelia). His daughter, Beatrice, wants to reject the old ways of Judaism, as she falls in love with a Manchester football player (soccer for us in the US), notorious for giving the Nazi salute on the field. Simon cannot believe Beatrice would just walk away from her Jewish heritage, much less leave it for someone who would do anything positive to the group of people responsible for the slaughter of thousands upon thousands of people. Within him, Simon is plagued–does he tell his daughter how he feels and risk losing her forever, or will he swallow his thoughts and allow them rot himself, like a plague? This is obviously something Simon is not used to, as his behavior (and his humor) is abrasive at even the happiest of times.
Howard Jacobson is the perfect writer for this take. A Man Booker Prize winner in 2010 (and a shortlisted novelist in 2014), he wrote a book with a Shakespearean scholar about some of the Bard’s characters. Jacobson describes the Merchant of Venice as ‘the most troubling of Shakespeare’s plays for anyone, but, for an English novelist who happens to be Jewish, also the most challenging.’
I really enjoyed reading this book, and thoroughly enjoyed the idea that there will be more of these retellings, thanks to Hogarth. Published in February 2016, it is available from your favorite retailer in your favorite format.
Which of Shakespeare’s plays is YOUR favorite? Which is the hardest to read? Please let me know below!