[enter ham]

in Australia a recent production of the Merchant of Venice changed the ending—

what have I done?

the Jew’s daughter wails, collapsing on the stage, dropping out of both marriage plot

and conversion trance, delayed

reaction to the previous scene, her bareheaded brokenhearted father robbed and spat upon.

critics wonder if this is okay

which is how I read about it half a world away. a few years ago I was invited by friends

to a Shakespeare reading party

the play was The Merchant of Venice and though we’d been going back and forth

about possible nights

the host decided to push it back another week and then the date happened to fall

on Yom Kippur

or more precisely Kol Nidrei—the annulment of vows—a legal procedure as prayer

which gathers new meanings

through Jewish history of persecution—think conversos during the Spanish Inquisition

unswearing what oaths

they took to survive, gathering in secret to pray just once to their actual god.

the Merchant of Venice was/is a Nazi favorite

broadcast over the radio just after Kristallnacht, and then in 1943 when Krauss entered

as Shylock, the audience shuddered—with a crash

and a weird train of shadows, something revoltingly alien and startlingly repulsive crawled across the stage.

I texted to say I couldn’t come

but more importantly this party couldn’t happen. right away my friend replied

Shakespeare is dialectically beyond

anti-Semitism so I said fuck you but we did read a different play on another night

over rum punch and a ham.

Elizabeth Gross
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