JEWISH-AMERICAN HALL OF FAME • JEWISH MUSEUM IN CYBERSPACE
ANTI-SEMITIC BIGOTRY AS CHRONICLED BY HISTORICAL MEDALS


 

There have even been medals of Shylock commemorating this character, one of which portrays Shylock with devil's horns (figure 58). On the obverse it reads in verse: "This Is the Jew, Which Shakespeare Drew," and around the outer rim runs the rhyme, "Av'rice and Titled Lust, Alone We Blame Yet Blush We must for 'Tis a Nations Shame." Below the bust is the text "VP / No Private Boxes." On the reverse are abbreviations surmounted by leaves and a legend reading, "The Dramas Laws, the Dramas Patrons Give. And he Who Lives to Please, Should Please to Live."The text in center reads "What D'ye Want?," followed by "OP OB" and "DPO."

According to Alex Ben-Arieh, the background of this medal and an explanation of the abbreviations is that in 1809 the theater of Covent Garden, after being closed for a period of time, re-opened charging higher prices than before. Its manager and his family were known to be receiving high salaries, and some of the theater's owners were from the aristocratic class. Popular discontent with the prices led to disturbances which took on an anti-Semitic tone, with the Jews perceived as enemies of the working class. This medal attacks the price rise and the Jews who presumably protect it and demands "OP OB,” meaning "old prices and open boxes,” and "no private boxes.” The initials "VP" on the obverse mean "Vox Populi,” i.e., "The Voice of the Public.” The clear reference to “The Jew” associated with “Avarice and Lust” in the rhyme on the obverse supports this contention.


 "Old Price" Riots   Covent Garden: Shylock Medal
Figure 58. "Old Price" Riots, Covent Garden: Shylock Medal

P. Wyon?, England, 1809, white metal struck medal, 43mm. Ref: Friedenberg pp. 22-23, Eimer 1005, BHM 676 (Image courtesy of Christopher Eimer)

Consider also Voltaire (François Marie Arouet de Voltaire), the renowned French philosopher, historian, dramatist and writer, who is widely viewed as the embodiment of the 18th century Enlightenment, and who is remembered primarily as a crusader against tyranny and bigotry. Though he attacked the established Catholic Church and advocated freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and separation of church and state, Voltaire nevertheless also evidenced anti-Semitic sentiments in his writings.

Not only have anti-Semitic feelings been advanced by formal literature and art but it has also been passed down through less formal writings, using comic-book style literature that can be found in such seemingly innocuous places as small, rural restaurants and gas stations.

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