Thursday 29 August 2013 6:05 am

Syrian parliament invokes strange Shakespearean allegory in letter to UK MPs

(Salanio and Salarino encounter Shylock)

The Syrian parliament appears to have dropped a reference to Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" in a letter to UK MPs.

In the second paragraph of a document obtained by Sky News, Mohammad Jihad al-Laham, speaker of the people's assembly of Syria, writes:

We write to you as fathers and mothers, as members of families and communities really not so different to yours. We write to you as fellow human beings for, if you bomb us, shall we not bleed?

That line is curiously similar to one delivered by the Jewish money lender Shylock in Shakespeare's classic:

I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, arms, legs, senses, affections, desires? Are we not fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?

If the intention was to draw a comparison between Syria and Shylock, it may not be taken as a very wise one, for in the play Shylock is a cruel character.

However, as a Jew in Venice in the 16th century, Shylock would have been subject to great persecution. Not just for his usury, prohibited under Christian law at the time. Jews in Venice had to inhabit the Venetian Ghetto or "geti" and to wear signs of identification.

In the climatic scenes of the play, Portia tells uses a law which identifies Shylock as an alien (owing to his being a Jew), and as such the disgraced character loses all his property.

Perhaps the Syrian parliament wishes to suggest that like Shylock, it too has been made cruel by the cruelty with which they have been treated.