Sunday, May 18, 2014

Irony, historical

So, Germany is getting ready for its festival summer, and the educated and not so educated elites with too much time on their hands flock to green and pleasant places to indulge, al fresco and with a glass (or two) of Winzersekt in hand, in a bit of cultcha. Among the smaller venues is the charming town of Röttingen in the gentle vale of the river Tauber (if you think "festival" in Germany means Glastonbury, you're wrong). 

Among Holocaust scholars Röttingen is known as the place where the first of a whole spate of massacres of Jews which swept the south of Germany in the 13th-century took place, sparked by the divinely inspired accusation by one Herr Rindfleisch (who either was a butcher or merely a crazy provincial aristocrat with a fanciful name) that the Röttingen Jews had (what else?) desecrated a host.   

Of course, no mention is made of that exceptional claim to fame on the town’s official website  (which, like those of untold other communities in Germany, is also in blatant denial about the period between 1914 and 1945. Simply didn't happen.).  

And so it strikes me as a bit of a historical irony that the organisers of this year’s Frankenfestspiele (merrily advertised all over the national press) have decided to put on Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

Now I'm not trying to prohibit performances of this particular play, or performances that do not aim at challenging the play's ascription to the genre of "comedy". But in this case a very particular idiocy seems to be at work: The kind of idiocy that probably comes from a total historical cluelessness, exacerbated by a half-baked, vaguely apologetic awareness of 20th-century German history (anything beyond that is terra incognita). Of course, the festival's website reassures us, this is not an anti-Semitic play – indeed, Shakespeare couldn't even have had anti-Semitic intentions. After all, there were no Jews in England at this time, for they had been "banished by law" ("Shakespeare wollte mit dieser Komödie sicher keinerlei antijüdische Stimmung machen, da es zu dieser Zeit in England offiziell keine Juden gab. Sie waren per Gesetz verbannt").

No Jews, no anti-Semitism. Somehow that formula sounds familiar. That doesn't make it any less stupid, however (or less embarrassing in a place with a history like Röttingen).

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