Monday, November 04, 2013

Shylock = ?

While playing Catchphrase* last night at a staff party, I had to try to get the others to come up with the name of one of Shakespeare's plays.

I told them as fast as I could, it's the Shakespeare play where somebody wants to cut somebody's heart out, and Shylock is in it. I thought, the courtroom scene is one of the most famous in "The Merchant of Venice." Surely somebody will make the connection, though somewhat poorly expressed on my part.

But they looked at me with blank stares. "We went to public school. We don't know this," one of them said.

Given that they've all earned bachelor's degrees and are in no wise idiots, I thought the whole scene was a rather sad anecdote illustrating the state of literary awareness in modern America.

Or am I just being elitist in expecting college-educated people to remember the title and principal characters of one of the most popular plays (in contemporary times) produced by a playwright whose body of work is still widely studied and performed 400 years after his death?

*For the uninitiated: Catchphrase is just like Taboo, only you can get phrases sometimes instead of a single word, and there aren't any words that you can't say when you're trying to get people to say the phrase that's your turn.

11 comments:

da_baum said...

I am reading all the time, and *I* didn't know that…I've read 3-4 Shakespeare plays (at least Julius Caesar, Hamlet, and Much Ado About Nothing), and seen another one (Taming of the Shrew), but don't know that Merchant of Venice. I also know Romeo and Juliet decently well, but probably because everyone knows that one...

Sarah said...

You're just missing out on Merchant of Venice. I've never read a few of Shakespeare's plays (any of the histories besides Julius Caesar, and none of the tragedies either -- I don't think I even read Romeo and Juliet), but I know enough about the characters and plots to catch the basic allusions.

Because that's the deal. If you don't know who Shylock is, if somebody calls somebody else Shylock, say in a novel or something, you don't get what's going on....

Unknown said...

yes . . .

Abby said...

Well, I recognize the person Shylock, probably wouldn't have been able to recall it. Although I would have gotten it just from the cutting the heart out, which is rather a big deal to one's health and well-being...
And I've only technically read two whole plays of Shakespeare (Hamlet and one of the love ones). Maybe you are just being elitist. You like Shakespeare, some people don't, or didn't at the time they read it.
Nevertheless, I find the comment from the other person rather amusing.

Unknown said...

What other person, Abby? I was so out of my realm that all I could say was "yes"! CM

Abby said...

Carol, I figured the unknown was you :-) but I was actually referring to the person she said stated "We went to public school. We don't know this". Either indicating homeschoolers know stuff that "normal" people don't, or that the public school education is lacking.

As for out of your realm, don't you know Shakespeare? I guess since Mom and Sarah like his stuff, I assumed you would too...

Anonymous said...

Hey, Abby - I went to public school! E' Tu Brute' or Nevermore, quoth the raven is what I remember. I think that is Shakespeare and Edgar Allen Poe . . . and I remember West Side Story, so that's almost like reading Romeo and Juliet . . .
No, I don't know Shakespeare personally. Does he live in Indiana? Your friend who went to public school, Carol

Sarah said...

Hahaha. Y'all are quite amusing. Hm, for some reason I guess I was still under the impression that most people had to read at least a little Shakespeare in high school. (And for the record, I actually hated reading his tragedies. I liked the comedies.)

Abby said...

Carol, I thought you did, but so did Mom and she knows Shakespeare and stuff...I think everyone in your generation liked West Side Story...:-)
Maybe in AP English or something like that Sarah, but haven't really heard anyone mention his works as a school assignment...

Guitarlady said...

We had to read some Shakespeare in school (English lit); I enjoyed the comedies and saw some of his plays. I'm not familiar with "Merchant of Venice" though (other than being a work of Shakespeare) and would have thought Shylock familiar without placing the character in the correct work. My first thought was Holmes' brother but I quickly realized that's Mycroft, so I would have been at a loss. The comment you mentioned is sad though.....

Sarah said...

Lol. And here I thought my coworkers were the only ones in the world who didn't get Shylock and the cut-your-heart-out reference...