Thoughts of Shylock:

It’s a beautiful morning on Cape Cod. A  slight breeze, sunny, the marsh is at low tide unlike the photo to the left,  not too many birds around which is surprising. They may be sleeping late.

Walking to get my morning coffee which my wife Maria insists on making in part because she believes I use more coffee than necessary I had a thought come into my head: “Was Shakespeare’s play the Merchant of Venice anti-Semetic?” I’ll explain later why I believe the thought came to me. Immediately after thinking of it I recalled that in high school it was the only Shakespeare play that I read. I’m sure I did it because it was assigned which made me wonder why that was the only one which was  assigned, or if others were assigned, that I recall reading. For years I remembered little about it other than Shylock’s speech “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” 

I had read the play a few months ago and it was surprising to me how evil the Jewish Shylock was made to appear adamantly insisting on his pound of flesh. I wondered what people more learned than I thought. I found this which labored to say there are some who think that it is not.

The reason the thought came to mind, I think, is I received an email from John Gaughan who we used to call Shorty. (I’m not sure I should mention it but that was so long ago I’m sure he won’t  mind.) The Gaughans lived in the courtyard on O’Callaghan Way in Old Harbor Village in South Boston in the second last house on the left near the railroad tracks. I lived at  18 O’Callaghan Way on the street end of the courtyard. The courtyard had a large grass play area where I spent the greater part of my first ten years of my life.

Jimmy Gaughan was my best friend growing up. I still recall the day about age five sitting on the stoop in front of his house and his mother saying, “Jimmy, you should learn to tie your shoes. I bet Matty knows how to do it, don’t you Matty.” Even though I had no idea how it was done how could I say no. So I said “yes.” Then to my everlasting humiliation she said: “Show Jimmy how you do it.” You can understand why that sticks with me all these many years later.

Jimmy went off to a seminary and became a priest at a very young age, he’d leave the priesthood and marry and raise a family some place in the mid-West. Joey Gaughan who died a few years back became the first assistant DA in Plymouth County when I was in a similar position in Norfolk County. Other brothers were Boston police officers. John (Shorty) was an engineer who spent some time on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I’ve had little contact with them over the years but still feel very close.

It was a surprise to hear from him. He sent along a video for me to watch. I think after watching this you’ll see why the Merchant of Venice came to mind.

It’s always good to hear from old friends. When I posted about Dick Doherty yesterday I heard from others. One, Joe Clifford, from Savin Hill, which I must say is very much like Old Harbor Village in Southie for me when it comes to having dear friends who you can feel close to and who will stick by you after a half a century. Joe was the older brother of my friends Jimmy and Mikey who I went to high school with. He was one of the nicest guys in the neighborhood who true to tradition, unlike me, married a neighborhood girl.

7 thoughts on “Thoughts of Shylock:

  1. Correct: Saxton Street’s Dan Sulllivan was one of the older guys, closer to Jim Cotter. Both played football at B.C. As a lineman, Dan was all-East in college and a starter at the Baltimore Colts; a great athlete at Boston Tech H.S., Dan not only excelled in football, but also excelled in hockey, and in CYO basketball.

    2. The Merchant of Venice: When Portia asked “Surely if he forfeit, thou will not take his flesh, What’s that good for? Shylock replied “To bait fish withal; if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge” Portia was a lawyer for the guy who screwed Shylock on a deal. (Something like that.)Shylock was justly furious.

    Shylock’s soliloquy is magnificent, and ends with this magnificence: THE VILLAINY YOU TEACH ME, I WILL EXECUTE, AND IT SHALL GO HARSH, BUT I WILL BETTER THE INSTRUCTION.”

    I identified more with Shylock, the debt collector, than the debt defaulters, the conniving, reneging clients of Portia, although her “take your pound of flesh, but not one drop of blood” was incisively icey, deadly cutting to the quick, leaving Shylock emptyhanded and speechless.

    The Merchant of Venice did dip into unfair stereotyping, but remember Rome actually banned Christian-Catholics from engaging in usury, so non-Catholics including Jews and non-practicing Catholics became the lenders, the financiers, et alia.

    Shylock spoke about what would sate his vengeful quest for justice: What’s a pound of flesh good for?

    “To bait fish withal, if it will feed nothing else it will feed my revenge; He hath disgraced me and hindered me half a million; thwarted my bargains, laughed at my losses; mocked my gains; scorned my nation; cooled my friends and heated my enemies; And what’s his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew hands; hath not a Jew eyes, organs, senses, dimensions, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt by the same weapons, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you tickle us, do we not laugh; if you prick us do we not bleed? . . . and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge.
    If Jew wrong a Christian then what is his humility? Revenge. And if a Christian wrong a Jew then what should his sufferance be by the same Jewish example? The villainy you teach me, I shall execute, and it shall go harsh, but I will better the instruction

    Who could not admire this smart, tough man, Shylock, so steadfast, persistent and eloquent, too; a hardworking, honest man deprived of his just deserts, his fair pay, his fair profit, by the chicanery and trickeration of a typical lawyer? I admired him. I sided with him.

    And maybe that was William Shakespeare point: just because you can get away with it, doesn’t make it right.

    1. Some mistakes, and I omitted “healed by same means”
      What a writer, William Shakespeare of Stratford on Avon, England, something like that.
      Shakespeare’s birthplace diagonally across the street from the birthplace of the parents (or grandparents) of the founder of Harvard College: John Harvard and Alice Rogers, as I remember, but I’m too tired right now to confirm.

  2. Matt, I just spoke with Jimmy Gaughan and he mentioned how he thinks of pucker thomas and Kenny o,tool and the Teehans and you all the time . D there were two Dan Sullivan’s one went in the seminary with lefty Mahoney and the other i think BC to Baltimore Colts. Jimmy Gaughan lives just outside Minneapolis, Minnesota which he says has been interesting the past few days. John Gaughan comes home to the cape from Florida on the 7th of June he is in Dennis ,I’ll play golf with him a few times in the summer. You guys should get together. As bob hope use to say thanks fot love he memories

  3. Matt, I had to comment on your article because you speak of the best of the best. I sent
    Your article to shorty and jimmy. There were others from that area of ocallaghan suc as ,lefty Mahoney, Dan Sullivan , the Niocies, the Brennan’s, jimmy Sullivan , Billy’s and
    Wally and Midge Clifford who all went into religious field and than of course there was Us., and many more greats.haha. Thanks for the memories

    1. 251 O’call

      As best I remember: the Niosis, Peter and Paul, lived next door to me then around the corner heading toward the Gaughans were the McGregors (?) the Gaughins and the Couglins. Don’t remember too many on the left side. The right side is another story. From back to front – Johnny O’Neil and his family, Billy Pitts (best tree climber), Shoe Murphy, Jackie Thomas, the Cliffords, on the edge the Julians (Jimmy Julian hit me over the head with a sidewalk brick from behind. That’s how I learned blood was warm)

      As for the religious field, I think my mother wanted me to become a priest but I refused to consider it for the fundamental reason because I thought they had to get up too early in the morning and I liked to sleep later. I think my aunt Honey, the mother of Roger and Jimmy Concannon, hoped that Roger would get the calling. It shows how mothers can be too close to their kids to see the real kid. In Savin Hill there were a couple of close neighbors who had one son in the priesthood and and other in Walpole prison.

      As for Dan Sullivan from Old Harbor I don’t recall him. But right around the corner on Sydney Street was the nicest kid you could meet whose name is Dan Sullivan. He played football for the Baltimore Colts at right tackle when Unitas was quarterback. And your are right, then there were us others, the great run of the mill.

      Thanks for recalling and forwarding the article.

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