Shylock’s Revenge: Ernst Lubitsch’s Anti-Nazi Satire :"To Be or Not To Be" (1942)
A Special Guest Lecture as Part of the Departmental Colloquium by Dr. Joel Rosenberg (Tufts University)
We are honored to host a special guest, Dr. Joel Rosenberg, as part of the annual colloquium by The Steve Tisch School of Film and Television.
In March of 1942, there premiered, in the U. S., Ernst Lubitsch’s improbable film comedy, "To Be or Not To Be" —of all things, a satire on the Nazi occupation of Poland. This film brilliantly shattered an implicit taboo that had constrained U.S. cinema for the previous decade, prior to the declaration of war: making films critical of Germany and portraying the war, whatever else it was, as a Jewish struggle. This entailed the pivotal use of a character named Greenberg, played by East Prussian German-Jewish émigré Felix Bressart, as a stage extra whose longtime ambition has been to play Shakespeare’s Shylock on the Polish stage. Lubitsch’s careful use of Shakespeare’s "The Merchant of Venice" and "Hamlet" establishes the moral terrain addressed by this incisive trans-Atlantic call to arms - engaging with both European despotism and the censorship in Hollywood that had more or less prevailed until then.
Dr. Joel Rosenberg holds the Lee S. McCollester Chair in Biblical Literature at Tufts University and is the Director of the Program in Judaic Studies. He is a member of core faculty in the programs of Film and Media Studies; International Literary and Visual Studies; and Middle Eastern Studies. He is author of King and Kin: Political Allegory in the Hebrew Bible (1986) and his commentary on Genesis appears in the Third Edition of The Harper Collins Study Bible (1993). Since the mid-1990s, following upon a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, he has been immersed in film studies, beginning with a groundbreaking essay “Jewish Experience on Film” (American Jewish Year Book 1996). He co-edited with Stephen J. Whitfield a special double issue of the journal Prooftexts on The Cinema of Jewish Experience (2002), and he has more recently completed "Navigating Catastrophe: A Judeo-Cinematic Trajectory—Five Studies in Mass Media and Mass Destruction", which examines six films of Jewish experience made between 1899 and 1947. He has contributed, among other things, to the journals "Semeia; Jewish Social Studies"; "Jewish Film and New Media;" "Film and History"; and In Geweb. His essays and translations from Hebrew and Yiddish appear in numerous anthologies: "The Literary Guide to the Bible" (1987), "Rabbinic Fantasy" (1998); "Kol Ha-Neshamah": "The Reconstructionist Prayer Book" (1990-2000); "Hasidic Spirituality for a New Era" (2012); "Elie Wiesel" (2013); "Memories and Monsters: Psychology, Trauma, and Narrative" (2018); "and Hannah Arendt in the History of Thought" (2022).