Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses?
Those biting Shakespearean lines, spoken by one of The Bard of Avon’s most unforgettable characters, took on a new level of importance for one yeshiva high school senior last week, as he brought them to life in front of a crowd of literature buffs at the English-Speaking Union’s National Shakespeare Competition.
Dani Goffstein, 18, of Teaneck, N.J., took on the role of Shylock, the Jewish moneylender in “The Merchant of Venice,” to advance through the semifinals and finals of the New York City competition.
“As a Jew, I definitely empathize with Shylock and definitely understand him,” said Goffstein, a senior at the Yeshiva University High School for Boys, commonly known as MTA. But Goffstein chose this monologue from a list of suggestions because “it is so universal.”
The speech, where Shylock harangues his oppressors for treating him intolerantly, represents “all oppressed minorities, all victims of injustice,” said Goffstein. “Take out the word Jew, and put in black, gay, Hispanic … it has an incredible message that certainly applies today.” (That message, carried recently by Al Pacino and now F. Murray Abraham, two big-time Shylocks, has been getting a loud hearing on New York stages these days.)
Along with his monologue, Goffstein, a self-proclaimed “literature buff,” recited C’s Sonnet 138 (“When my love swears that she is made of truth”) and had to take on a cold reading of a passage from “Titus Andronicus,” one of Shakespeare’s earliest works. “It was really difficult,” said Goffstein, who had 10 minutes to prepare for the reading. “They want to know that you understand Shakespearean language.”
So after he impressed the judges in the semifinals against all the participating schools in New York City, Westchester and Long Island. Goffstein and nine other participants moved on to the finals two days later, where he emerged triumphant and was selected to represent New York in the final round.
He will face the winners from 56 other regions across the country at the finals in May. The champion will receive a scholarship for summer study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, and the runner-up gets a spot at the American Shakespeare Center’s Theater Camp in Staunton, Va.
“It would be such an incredible experience,” said Goffstein, who has acted in the past and is now an aspiring playwright and filmmaker. “When you’re behind the camera,” he said, “it’s all about the talent, because nobody cares how you look.”
Goffstein spent last summer studying screenwriting at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. “I just fell in love with it,” he said. “It’s really what I want to do.” He hopes to attend film school after he graduates, but will likely spend a year in Israel first.