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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: December ::
Re: Jessica
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 915. Thursday, 9 December 1993.
 
From:           Helen Ostovich <
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Date:           Wednesday, 8 Dec 1993 13:17:34 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 4.0909 Q: Jessica
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0909 Q: Jessica
 
Jessica came up for a lot of discussion in my class this year.  One of the
responses she evoked was pity for a girl forced to take over household
responsibilities too young, as a result of the mother's death?  (Is there
a Shakespearean daughter besides Juliet who has a mother still living??)
Shylock gives his daughter the keys when he goes out [2.5.12], asks her to
"Look to my house", and warns "Perhaps I will return immediately."  I did
not hear this last line as an implicit warning that Jessica had better
behave or else -- I took it to mean he was reluctant to eat with
Christians and might change his mind -- but students heard it as parental
threat of checking up.  Shylock's habit of quoting proverbs and his fear
that Jessica will "clamber" up to look at masquers from her window suggest
a repressive home atmosphere.  Another student suggested (on the basis of
her sociology course) that Shylock is really more of a Puritan than a Jew.
The connection between Jews and certain Puritan sects comes up in
*Bartholomew Fair* when Rabbi (sic) Busy resolves to gorge himself on pork
to prove he's not Jewish.  Given the antitheatrical and anti-pleasure
attitude in general among Puritans, Jessica's quest for more fun may have
prompted the elopement.  Family resentment could also explain her wasting
of money in Genoa, reported by Tubal [3.1] and her theft of the turquoise
ring, a love-gift from Leah, the defunct mother.  The trading of the ring
for a monkey suggests disrespect for both parents, especially given the
sexual symbolism of rings (see Act 5) and of monkeys:  she is essentially
turning her mother's token into a token of whoredom, or indiscriminate
desire.  The elopement scene itself is strange:  Jessica insists on
finding more and more money to throw down to her lover -- to make herself
more attractive to Lorenzo?  We also discussed the implications of the BBC
*Merchant of Venice* video, which focusses on the isolation of Antonio,
and the corresponding isolation of Jessica at Belmont.  Portia, for
example, says nothing directly to Jessica: she delegates that job to
Nerissa.  Why?  The feeling in the class was that Jessica was at Belmont
on sufferance only, as Lorenzo's barely acceptable wife; just as Antonio
is there on sufferance, only as Bassanio's friend, but still a merchant,
not a real gentleman.  The only person who really likes Jessica is
Lancelot, and he's a fool.
 
Helen Ostovich
McMaster University
 

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