Reflections on Shakespeare - Jim Holmes

Dear Friends,

Unlike many of you, I am sure, I was not brought up with Shakespeare as a constant presence. I never read a Shakespeare play in high school, nor did I have to memorize any of his sonnets. (The deficiencies of my high school, thought to be the best in Baton Rouge fifty years ago, is another story.) I have since seen several Shakespeare plays, with the movie versions being the most memorable.

This week, Tim produced an evening of Shakespeare scenes and sonnets. I was particularly struck by Shylock’s speech in The Merchant of Venice. Shylock, a Jew pleading for justice, describes himself as a human being at a time when it was illegal to be Jewish in England and Jews were persecuted throughout Europe. “Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions. . . ? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?”

Why have these people of God, who taught us that we are all made in the image of God, been so vilified, so defined as other? The answers are myriad and reflect on human nature. But we can ask now--four hundred years later--why there is again a rise in anti-semitism, and we can also ask why we have to put up banners saying “Black Lives Matter” and have a movement called “#MeToo"? Why do we consider some folks humanity to be less than ours, whoever we are? If we prick them, do they not bleed?

There is a new play on Broadway called “Straight White Men” which takes a look (not particularly successfully, according to one reviewer) at the nature of privilege in our society. Privilege is part of the answer to the questions in the prior paragraph. Many us here at Emmanuel enjoy being of one or more of those three categories, and we may really think about it as “just the way things are.”

Shylock invites us to keep the issue of ‘the other’ in the front of our minds and hearts. And to let it inform our actions. “Will you respect the dignity of every human being” is a question followed by a vow in our baptismal service (BCP 305). It is who we are called to be as Christians, as human beings, as we try to live into the notion that there are no others. When we are pricked, we all bleed; when we are tickled, we all laugh. We are all in this together.

Jim Holmes