The Great Debate: The Hamantash in Shakespeare, 1965 debate
Who was William Shakespeare?
This question has defied the best scholarly minds for three andone-half centuries. Some critics have said his poems and plays were really written by the seventeenth Earl of Loxford.Others say that the true author was Francis (you’ll pardon the expression) Bacon.Nonsense! Shakespeare alone, or somebody else with that name, is the true author. That this man of lowly origins — a humble hamantash baker by trade — could have written immortal verse comes as a surprise to some. But not to me. For a careful search of his sonnets and plays clearly reveals the man and the powerful source of his creativity.
The first clue to the mystery is to be found in Shakespeare’s central play, The Merchant of Venice. In act 5, the young hero Lorenzo says to the beautiful Jessica: ‘How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon
this bank! Here we will sit and let the sounds of music creep into our ears.’
Here is a statement that appears to be poetic, clear, and straightforward. But how can it be both poetic on the one hand and clear and straightforward on the other? Modern literary criticism and centuries of Shakespearean scholarship teach us this is impossible. So we must look more closely.
The lines I’ve quoted are from the first folio. But we have the discovery of an earlier folio of Shakespeare’s plays, the manuscript unknowingly used as the parchment wrapping of kishke in a Piccadilly delicatessen. It was found — the wrapping, not the kishke — discarded on a London dock.Thus, in honor of its place of discovery, it is now called the port-folio.
This new insight to Shakespeare reveals that Lorenzo’s line, as originally written, was: ‘How light the sweet moon sits upon this bank! Here we will sleep and let the sounds of music ear in our creeps.’
This is more satisfactory, I’m sure you’ll agree.Yes, it’s true that many think there’s little sense to the revised lines.But that’s because they read and listen with the eyes and ears of a person. It must be done with the eyes and ears of a PhD.
Consider again: ‘How light the sweet moon sits upon this bank!’ But what is a bank? A place for deposits and withdrawals. As you know, food in Elizabethan times was so bad that most of what was deposited was quickly withdrawn. Hence, ‘bank’ as used here clearly is a euphemism for the stomach. The line should therefore read: ‘How light the sweet moon sits upon my stomach.’
But this makes little sense — unless you know that “moon” is a corruption of the Middle English word mohn. Lorenzo is paying tribute to the sweet taste of mohn,principal ingredient of the hamantash. Therefore, the first line actually says: ‘How light the sweet mohn sits upon my stomach.’
Mohn, of course, is made from poppy seeds. And eating of the poppy leads to a state of euphoria and blissful sleep.Thus, the second line becomes clearer: when Shakespeare, through Lorenzo, says, ‘Here we will sleep and let the sounds of music ear in our creeps’ he is, plainly speaking, telling of the effects of eating hamantashen, particularly the mohn in the middle.
I admit the passage is not crystal clear: ‘ear in our creeps’ sounds a little strange to our coarsened poetic senses. But ‘creeps’ is nothing more than a term derived from the Middle Yiddish (sixteenth century) word greps, a word still understood in scholarly circles. And ‘ear in’ means to blend or to harmonize with. So the phrase ‘ear in our creeps’ must mean ‘to harmonize with a greps.’
Therefore, the two lines of poetry now are clear. Shakespeare is saying, through Lorenzo: ‘How light the sweet mohn sits upon my stomach. Here will I sleep and let my snores harmonize with an occasional greps.’
But where does Jessica come in,you ask? A good question.The solution is simple, so transparent that it has been missed for 350 years. Jessica is the one who baked the hamantashen for the picnic. The
Merchant of Venice, stripped of its nonessentials, is really a Purim play — and a very good one when you consider that Haman, Mordecai, and Esther never make an appearance.And Shakespeare’s immortal hymn of praise to the hamantash — ‘How light the sweet mohn sits on my stomach’ — refutes for all time any claim the latke may have to preeminence in English literature.
The hamantash hypothesis is clearly the key to Shakespeare’s creation of The Merchant of Venice. (One might even say — if he dares — that it is the key that opens the shy-lock.) Moreover, this hypothesis clarifies the underlying mystery of Romeo and Juliet.
Why were they a pair of star-crossed lovers? Why were their two households, both alike in dignity, feuding? The very names of the families give us the answer: Juliet was a Capulatke, Romeo a Hamantashague. Enmity, hostility, even hatred are the natural consequences. Early in the play Romeo is mildly infatuated with another girl, Rosaline, of whom Mercutio says, ‘That same pale hard-headed wench, that Rosaline, torments him so that he will sure run mad.’ Notice the key words: ‘pale’ and ‘hard-hearted.’ We know that Mercutio is, like Romeo, a member of the Hamantashague family. ‘Pale’ must mean unripe, or underdone; and ‘hard-hearted’ is the perfect description of a cold latke.Mercutio is calling Rosaline an underdone, cold latke. Romeo’s infatuation, he is saying, cannot last — unless he is mad — for he knows that
Women who are cold, cold latkes
Cannot warm a young man’s gatkes.
So when Romeo sees Juliet he loves her immediately, and soon says, ‘By yonder blessed mohn I vow.’
She softly answers: ‘O swear not by the mohn, the inconstant mohn … lest thy love prove likewise variable.’ She does not know how to bake hamantashen and is trying to warn him away from his fatal obsession.The stage for tragedy is set.Truly, there ‘never was a story of more woe that this of Juliet and her Romeo.’
We begin to see a pattern in Shakespeare’s plays.When we note that the Dark Lady was the inspiration of his sonnets, the final clue to the secret of Shakespeare’s power emerges.
‘Dark’ is the perfect word for the filling in a hamantash: it is black and it is hidden within baked dough. Mohn is made of poppy seeds (masculine, of course, or else it would be made from mommy
seeds), but the other hamantash filling, prunes, is feminine; only women eat them, usually old women with irregularity. Thus the Dark Lady has two meanings — an absolute prerequisite in all literary criticism.The Dark Lady stands for Shakespeare’s two favorite dishes — hamantashen and his constipated old mother. These were the twin sources of his inspiration.
For a few remaining skeptics, there is the sonnet of Shakespeare’s, newly discovered, stamped on the skin of a kosher salami. It is Shakespeare’s final testament, his Lost Sonnet:
Shall I compare these to a hot latke?
Thou art less fattening, more digestible,
While heartburn is the latke-eater’s lot
(A fatal fact quite incontestable).
Consumed by that which he was nourished by,
The glutton soon cries out in vain, ‘Surcease,
And then his appetite and he both die
As martyrs to an overdose of grease.
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Immortal poppy seed,O Hamantash:
The gourmet’s appetite thou ne’er dost jade
When happily he has thee for a nosh.
Thy taste a taste of heaven must foretell.
While slippery latkes line the road to hell.