Bernard Malamud’s Hidden Hypotext?

Reversing Shylock in “The Assistant”


  • Serena Demichelis



Bernard Malamud, Shylock, money, Jewish-American, The Assistant


My paper focuses on the rewriting of the character of Shylock in Bernard Malamud’s The Assistant. Shylock has attained “archetypal status” (Clayton Lein 1995, 117), as he has transcended the limits of his existence in The Merchant of Venice; while becoming a symbol, the Shakespearian Jew has transmigrated into other literary works and has given birth to different characters and diegetic entities. Shylock inspired a rich net of intertextual relations, especially in the works of authors who tackled issues concerning Jewishness and its relationship to the world and literature (Philip Roth’s Operation Shylock, Howard Jacobson’s Shylock is My Name, Charles Marowitz’s The Merchant of Venice). I contend, however, that Shylock’s archetypal status made it easy for writers to appropriate a set of meanings and features that are attached to him and to his play. In fact, rewritings often do not necessarily offer explicit quotations or adaptations, but still hold a strong interdiscursive connection. In Malamud’s case, rewriting is based on shared themes and has been attained through three mechanisms which I label mirror-overturn, double metonymy and explication, and which are framed within the theoretical fields of transtextuality (“overt” or “undercover”) and interdiscursivity. An analysis of such strategies provides the means to investigate both the textual and thematic peculiarities of The Assistant and Malamud’s relationship to the binomial “Jewish-American writing”—something that he regarded with an attitude spanning from full acceptance of the label to non-alignment (Grebstein in Field and Field 1975).


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