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Eliot Weinberger

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Nicola Jennings

Drain the Swamps

Steven Shapin

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Nicholas Spice

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Entertaining

I don’t like visitors. I meet my friends
in pubs where others do the washing-up.
A dinner-party’s my idea of hell.
(Guests come to criticise I’ve learned that much.)

All right – I compromise, and with a smile
provide drinks, coffee and a home-made cake
(when forced to it). But still I draw the line
at full-blown meals – the planning’s difficult
like simultaneous orgasm – meat and veg
rarely arrive together or on time.

Shylock

I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?... If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us do we not laugh? if you poison us do we not die?

I like Shylock. When playing him at eleven
I learned to sympathise with him and see his point of view.
(My version was more Sweeney Todd than Jew.
I pulled my hair round, tied up as a beard,
wore a loose preaching-gown and velvet cap
and brandished mother’s bread knife in the Court.)

He had more guts and more integrity
than all the Gentile bastards in that play.
(The noble Portia I do not admire –
for all her estimable logic in the dock,
all she attained was union with a wimp
who obviously preferred his man-friend’s charms,
yet needed marriage to a girl with cash.)

Some words of Shylock’s still remain with me,
24 years away from playing his part –
the speech in which he states the outcast’s case
and pleads the same humanity for Jews.

The man I loved – a bastard-Gentile-type –
saw me as far less human than Mankind,
less human than the women in his life,
especially his wife (although she screws around
and treats him like a dog). I’m just
‘a character’, he’s said as much – far ‘too
eccentric’ for his love. (Do I not bleed?)

Though not a Jew, I am a Jew to him.

Feelings? I haven’t got the things to hurt.
If I had ‘Jewish gaberdine’ he’d spit
on it for sure – well, metaphorically.

And yet this Gentile craves what I have got –
no, unlike Shylock, I’ve no cash to lend –
he’d like my sympathy for all she’s done.
(It doesn’t occur the tales might cause me pain.)
And, curiously, he also wants my love –
though he’s no thought of ever paying back.

Revenge is sweet – almost as sweet as sex.
No smart-arse Portia’ll spring to his defence.
‘The quality of mercy is not strained ...’
Mercy? I’ve not seen much of it around,
‘strained’ or unstrained. I’ll get my pound of flesh.
I’ve learned my lesson from poor Shylock’s case –
I’ll settle for the bastard’s blood as well.

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