Monday, November 25, 2013

Intercultural Conversation on Justice - Mercy - Revenge

Our third Intercultural Conversation this semester at the Loyola Intensive English Program (LIEP) took place on Thursday, November 14. Each Intercultural Conversation is an opportunity to exchange ideas on a timely topic from different cultural perspectives, bringing together LIEP students, other members of the Loyola community, and interested New Orleanians. Our facilitator is Dr. David O’Donaghue, the founder and director of the New Orleans Lyceum and of Chautauqua New Orleans for life-long learning.

For this final Intercultural Conversation of the semester, we decided to include something speciala time for LIEP students and New Orleans participants to visit informally in small groups before coming together for our larger discussion. As we visited at small tables, we enjoyed cheese and fruit, as well as delicious brownies and lemon squares baked by one of our New Orleans participants.

Natsumi Akiyoshi of Japan
Natsumi Akiyoshi of Japan remarked that she enjoyed the conversation at her table of four, with two other LIEP students and one New Orleans participant. Natsumi said that the conversation turned to political and religious differences among Japan, Venezuela, and the United States. Natsumi was impressed that there are so many Christians in Venezuela, where religion is a prominent part of a person’s education and is discussed in daily conversation. Natsumi said that Japanese do not often talk about religion, so this difference interested her.

Soon it was time for us all to come together for the Intercultural Conversation. Because our class had read and discussed Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, we chose a related question:

What do we do when someone has committed a wrong?
What factors lead to revenge or justice or mercy?

In class, we had seen how revenge, justice, and mercy work together in Shakespeare’s story of the Christian merchant Antonio and the Jewish moneylender Shylock.

  • REVENGE: Hurting someone excessively to get back at someone for a prior hurt. In The Merchant of Venice, we see revenge operating in the Jewish moneylender Shylock, who has been deeply and frequently insulted by Christians like Antonio. Shylock is almost gleeful in his anticipation of cutting a pound of flesh from Antonio’s body.
  • JUSTICE: Exacting a penalty that matches the wrong done. In The Merchant of Venice, we see a kind of justice in the penalties required by the Venetian legal system for someone who  seeks to take the life of another.
  • MERCY: Wholeheartedly accepting a lesser penalty than an offense merits, or possibly foregoing any penalty at all. In The Merchant of Venice, mercy is discussed at length, but is very scarce in practice.

For this Intercultural Conversation, we looked at how revenge, justice, and mercy work in our own responses when someone does something wrong. The participants focused largely on finding positive ways to handle wrong-doing by others.

RESOLVE ISSUES OR LET GO. A student from Saudi Arabia said that he always strove to follow the advice of his father, who counseled that peace of mind comes from letting go and forgetting about it when another person behaves annoyingly. Others cautioned that sometimes, if an issue is not resolved, it can fester and possibly lead to harmful revenge. We agreed that it is best to talk about an issue and resolve it if possible, but when no resolution is possible, it is best to let go fully.

TRY TO TEACH THE OTHER WHAT IT FEELS LIKE. Another student from Saudi Arabia said that people are often unaware of the effects of their actions. This student believes that it helps if an offending person can feel the effect of his behavior from the receiving end. With a close friend or family member, if explaining the effect of offending behavior doesn’t help, this student will try to create a situation where the tables can be turned and the offender can be given a taste of how it feels to be treated as he has been treating others. We agreed that this can be effective if used very sparingly as a teaching tool in a close relationship.

PUT YOURSELF IN THE OTHER’S SHOES. One of our LIEP instructors suggested that the offending person may intend no offense at all. This instructor tries to put herself in the place of the offending person, which often helps to change her perspective. She has come to see that some offenses are completely unintentional.

DISTINGUISH BETWEEN INTENTIONAL AND UNINTENTIONAL HARM. A New Orleans participant said that he finds it easier to respect and deal with a person who is intentionally hurtful. To him, this makes the issue very clear and easy to confront. But some people, he said, hide an intention to hurt, even from themselves, causing them to say or do hurtful things while proclaiming good will. In such cases, the issue is blurred and cannot be confronted openly.

FINAL THOUGHT. Dr. David O’Donaghue offered a final important thought—Harm is not a good teacher. People find it hard to learn from revenge, whereas there is a much greater chance of learning when justice or mercy is offered.

Thank you to Dr. David O'Donaghue and to our LIEP students and New Orleans friends who participated in this thought-provoking Intercultural Conversation.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Loyola's Performance of THE MERCHANT OF VENICE

By Kento Ikeda

Program for Loyola's performance
During the second half of October, we read The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, watched the 2005 Michael Radford movie of this play, and discussed them in the Advanced Reading class of the Loyola Intensive English Program (LIEP). On Monday, November 4, we had a discussion with Dr. Laura Hope, associate professor in the Department of Theater Arts and Dance at Loyola University New Orleans and director of Loyola's performance of The Merchant of Venice. Then, we watched the play at Loyola's Marquette Theater on the evening of Thursday, November 7.

During her visit with our class, Dr. Hope explained that she had chosen to give the play a more modern setting than Renaissance Europe: that of fascist Italy in 1939 with Mussolini in power. Mussolini planned to recreate the Roman Empire. To begin expanding his territory, Mussolini invaded North Africa, specifically Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, there was a community of black Jews who understood themselves as the descendants of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and who called themselves Beta Israel.

Dr. Laura Hope, Director
This historical background is important because Dr. Hope had cast an African-American actor as Shylock. Shylock, then, is from this black Ethiopian Jewish community of Beta Israel. Following the destruction of his homeland during Mussolini's North Africa military campaign, Shylock decided to relocate to Italy, where Jews were enjoying freedom and acceptance and where even some high-ranking posts in Mussolini's administration were held by Jews. Although Mussolini had not previously attacked jews, who had helped him to come to power, Italy suddenly enacted laws encouraging anti-Jewish discrimination some time after Shylock's arrival there. These laws appeared in the newspaper one day, surprising everyone, Jews and non-Jews alike.

Some remarkable features appeared in the performance of The Merchant of Venice directed by Dr. Hope.

SHYLOCK. Like the acting of Al Pacino (Shylock) in Michaelf Radford's movie, the acting of Akeem Biggs (Shylock) in Loyola's performance gave me a clear image of Shylock's feelings. Shylock was a Jew and was discriminated against by the Christians, and Biggs could express to the audience Shylock's sadness, anger, and humanity. For example, in the scene at court, when Shylock told us that he really wanted revenge against the Christians, Biggs came close to the audience and spoke loudly with a sad, angry facial expression and strong body language. Biggs's acting was so impressive that it changed the atmosphere in the theater.

THE PRINCE OF ARAGON. The Prince of Aragon, in the casket scene, as portrayed by Antonio Gil-Martinez in Michael Radford's movie and as portrayed by Lauren Patton in Loyola's performance were different. Both Gil-Martinez and Patton portrayed Aragon as a man with self-confidence who looked down on other people, but Patton also played Aragon as an old man who could not hear clearly and who stumbled when he walked. This was a funny part, and the audience laughed at Patton's excellent acting.

ANTI-JEWISH GRAFFITI. Loyola's stage set showed that Christians had written anti-Jewish graffit on the door of Shylock's home. This is another way to show discrimination toward the Jews in the play that was not used in the Radford movie.

PHYSICAL AND VERBAL ABUSE OF SHYLOCK. In the Radford movie, the Christians showed their contempt for Jews by spitting at Shylock's face, but it was difficult to do this in Loyola's performance. In Loyola's performance, the Christians treated the Jews harshly in other ways. In court, the Christians hit Shylock after his trial. Also, they threw stones at Shylock's house. Throwing stones at another's house is prohibited by law now, but at that time this showed that the Jews did not have the same rights as the Christians had.

In conclusion, Dr. Hope set the play in a more modern era than the Renaissance, and it worked even better than I had expected. This performance attracted me and forced me to think about discrimination deeply. There were many funny parts in the performance, for example, the casket scene with the Prince of Aragon, described above. On the other hand, there were meaningful parts, for example, the discrimination against Shylock. The contrast between the funny parts and the sad parts was distinct. In the Loyola performance of The Merchant of Venice, I could both enjoy the play itself and think seriously about discrimination.
Students of LIEP Advanced Reading class with Dr. Laura Hope, 2nd from left in front row, standing

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Kento Ikeda of Japan
Our thanks to Kento Ikeda of Japan for this fine overview of our visit with Dr. Laura Hope, director of Loyola's performance of The Merchant of Venice, and of the performance itself. Kento is an exchange student from Sophia University in Tokyo, majoring in economics. Thank you, Kento!