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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: February ::
Re: Welsh; Athenian Tragedy; Hubris; Shylock
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0093.  Thursday, 9 February 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 8 Feb 1995 15:55:45 GMT
        Subj:   Mrs Mortimer's Welsh
 
(2)     From:   Steve Urkowitz <SURCC@CUNYVM>
        Date:   Thursday, 09 Feb 95 01:13:38 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0068  Re: Athenian Tragedy
 
(3)     From:   Steve Urkowitz <SURCC@CUNYVM>
        Date:   Thursday, 09 Feb 95 01:38:35 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0075  Re: Hubris
 
(4)     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Thursday, 9 Feb 95 12:14:49 EST
        Subj:   [Shylock]
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Wednesday, 8 Feb 1995 15:55:45 GMT
Subject:        Mrs Mortimer's Welsh
 
To Andrew Gurr, on speaking in strange tongues:
 
Annwyl Andrew,
 
Diolch yn fawr!
 
Terry Hawkes
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Urkowitz <SURCC@CUNYVM>
Date:           Thursday, 09 Feb 95 01:13:38 EST
Subject: 6.0068  Re: Athenian Tragedy
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0068  Re: Athenian Tragedy
 
Ron Macdonald's thought about the Orestia as  a critique of "Homeric" warrior
values might also be applied to the ODYSSEY as a similar critique.  Odysseus is
a terrific hero, but Homer makes it very clear that you don't really want to
build a house next to his nor go out a-voyaging with him.  Not if you want to
survive to hear the tale told to your grandchildren.
 
As ever, Grandpa Steve Urkowitz  (off to see Benjamin Max Fischer Urkowitz,
age 2, in Bloomington Indiana next weekend)
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Urkowitz <SURCC@CUNYVM>
Date:           Thursday, 09 Feb 95 01:38:35 EST
Subject: 6.0075  Re: Hubris
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0075  Re: Hubris
 
On hubris et alia . . . David Wilson-Okamura mentions that the unwitting murder
of his poppa by Oedipus somehow makes it not his fault that he did the deed. He
was TRYING not to kill his poppa by running away.  But ain't that the point?
You shouldn't kill any damn soul on the road just because the dude does you
dirty.  He might be your poppa.  If you're gonna live in a polis, you treat all
folk like family or you wind up with plagues,  (or so Sophocles may have
learned  from Dante where folks lost the sense of civility in exchange for
slaughter.) Oedipus is NOT a nice fellow.  Teiresias reads him loud and clear.
Aristotle doesn't.  And now that I'm a department chairman, everyone is
entitled to my opinion!
 
      Say goodnight, Jocasta.
                     Steve Egreekowitz
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Thursday, 9 Feb 95 12:14:49 EST
Subject:        [Shylock]
 
As somebody who has been stung by others' treating with severe literalness a
word or phrase tossed carelessly onto the net in the heat of some moment, I
don't want to hold John Owen too stringently to the letter of his recent
posting.  I am nonetheless disturbed by his notion that Shylock's "destruction"
of Antonio was "calculated before the beginning of the play" and by the
accompanying proposition that a humanized Shylock is merely a "post facto
transformation of a villainous stereotype"; neither will stand examination.
 
With regard to the first.  The nature of dramatic images such as Shylock--at
base, not a person but a string of words--is that they enter the time of
readers and auditors a word at a time, beginning with the first word by and
about them; as far as the reader or auditor is concerned, they have no
existence "before the beginning of the play".  To the extent that they have a
kind of "history" which involves events and statements and feelings from a time
before the time presented/represented by the speeches and stage directions of
the text, the indisputable content of that history is confined to those events,
etc., explicitly recalled by the words of the text, and those that can be
unequivocally inferred from them.
 
Thus the dramatic image called Shylock tells us that in a time prior to that
[re]presented by the speeches and stage directions of <The Merchant of Venice>
someone named Leah gave him a turquoise (Riverside ed. 3.1.121-22); it seems
reasonable to infer that this person became his wife and the mother of his
daughter Jessica (the text does not explicitly say so).  We may choose to
develop other inferences, for instance, on the ground that Tubal's mention of
the ring is a torture to Shylock to suppose that the character has felt
conjugal affection for this Leah.  But even when (as here) there is no obvious
reason to think otherwise--that he married some other woman, or that their
marriage was unhappy--we can only suppose, not assert.
 
Shylock does tell us (and Antonio confirms the telling) that in a time prior to
the time [re]presented by the text Antonio interfered with Shylock's practice
of lending money at interest, and spat upon his Jewish gabardine, and he tells
us that if he has a chance he will "feed fat" this "ancient grudge" should he
catch Antonio at a disadvantage (1.3.46-47); the phrase is metaphoric and hence
polysemous but very likely implies revenge of some kind.
 
But he does not say anywhere that he has previously "calculated" Antonio's
"destruction".  It seems very improbable that prior to the beginning of the
play he had "calculated" the device of the pound of flesh ("Boy, if that
Antonio ever comes to borrow money from me, instead of charging monetary
interest I'll set the bond at a pound of his rotten Christian flesh"); not only
is it Antonio, not Shylock, who has initiated the deal, against all Antonio's
normal practice ("I neither lend nor borrow . . . Upon advantage" [1.3.61-69]),
but under circumstances (the failure of six different shipping ventures) that
make collection of the bond unlikely.  A clever financier who wished to
"calculate the destruction" of a venture capitalist such as Antonio could
presumably try to do so-- suborn sailors or shipwrights, hire pirates, set up
enticing dummy ventures whose guaranteed failure would eat away at his enemy's
capital.  But that's not Shylock's proceeding here.
 
It seems much more probable that the human behavior imitated in this scene of
the text is impulsive, improvisational: a preposterous collocation of
circumstances has given Shylock a remote chance to "catch [Antonio] once upon
the hip" and he offers an equally preposterous response to it.  Indeed, it
seems more plausible to me that having offered the preposterous but
psychologically gratifying response, when, preposterously, the fantasy turns
real, Shylock is trapped in it (not by any means unwillingly), caught between
prudence and desire, with not only personal but ethnic honor at stake, his
anger exacerbated by Jessica's betrayal and the incessant goading of the
Christians, by the Christians' refusal to treat the situation (despite the
momentary distraction of Portia's speech about the quality of mercy [what mercy
does she show to Morocco or Aragon?]) in any but literal, monetary terms, so
that his customary prudence gives way, with disastrous results.
 
Such a reading humanizes the image, of course--treats Shylock as a person
rather than as an animated stereotype.  Theoretically speaking, I should tread
carefully here.  What I argue, however, is that the text invites this kind of
reading--that as constructed it has already begun to progress of complicating
the stereotype, by giving the rapacious Jewish usurer a domestic as well as a
business setting, moments of geniality, a rhetorically if not logically
effective expression of his outrage at his Christian tormentors, tormentors who
themselves are conspicuously deficient in the peculiarly Christian virtues,
especially mercy.  The stereotype, as defined by figures such as the comic
tormentors and priests of the mystery cycles and Marlowe's Barabbas, is
assuredly present as a ground on which this image is being constructed, but the
Shakespearean image itself cannot be reduced to the formula without loss of
actual complexity.  Which does not mean that it has achieved, on its own, the
kind of liberal humanization present in the Karnovsky-Olivier-Ron Liebman
tradition of performance.
 
Characterologically,
Dave Evett
 

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