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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: October ::
Re: Antonio and *MV*
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0749.  Wednesday, 4 October 1995.
 
(1)     From:   John Owen <
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        Date:   Monday, 2 Oct 1995 14:23:26 -0700
        Subj:   RE: SHK 6.0743  Re: Antonio and *MV*
 
(2)     From:   Robin Farabaugh <
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        Date:   Monday, 2 Oct 1995 17:07:50 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0743  Re: Antonio and *MV*
 
(3)     From:   Bruce Young <
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        Date:   Monday, 02 Oct 1995 17:16:00 -0700 (MST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0743  Re: Antonio and *MV*
 
(4)     From:   Chris Stroffolino <
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        Date:   Monday, 02 Oct 1995 20:52:18 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0743  Re: Antonio and *MV*
 
(5)     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 3 Oct 1995 12:59:56 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0743  Re: Antonio and *MV*
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Owen <
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Date:           Monday, 2 Oct 1995 14:23:26 -0700
Subject: 6.0743  Re: Antonio and *MV*
Comment:        RE: SHK 6.0743  Re: Antonio and *MV*
 
W.L. Godshalk writes:
"Bruce Young is quite right: there is a different between Shylock and Antonio.
Shylock does not spit on Antonio, neither does he kick him."
 
Nor does Antonio try to skin Shylock alive in public. Nor is Antonio a ruthless
loan shark, despite Mr. Godshalk's extraordinary and futile efforts to pin some
kind, any kind of commercial skullduggery on him. Nor can we make Shylock a
tragic hero by completely inverting the author's obvious intentions and making
everyone ELSE a villain.
 
John Owen
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Farabaugh <
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Date:           Monday, 2 Oct 1995 17:07:50 -0400
Subject: 6.0743  Re: Antonio and *MV*
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0743  Re: Antonio and *MV*
 
Re Antonio announcing his "polymorphic homosexuality" by noting that his
ventures are not in one bottom trusted, one might want to consult the OED which
notes that the word bottom, meaning that which you sit on,or do whatever else
with, did not come into the language until 1794. The meaning of this word was
of some concern to my students with respect to Bottom the weaver, whose name
they saw as a pun on ass, and would have connected nicely to his ass's head,
but it was not to be. Cheers, Robin Farabaugh
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bruce Young <
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Date:           Monday, 02 Oct 1995 17:16:00 -0700 (MST)
Subject: 6.0743  Re: Antonio and *MV*
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0743  Re: Antonio and *MV*
 
Okay, okay.  So Antonio only seems to be, or thinks he is, or is taken by other
Venetians to be "generous," while we can see that he's really acting, out of
self-interest, to promote himself. (He pushes things pretty far, though, in
being willing to die for a friend.  But maybe he did that just to impress
people, too.)  And Portia is a self-seeking controller, however much her style
and her rhetoric might make us think that there's something attractive and
liberating about her.  And of course Bassanio bashing is so common I don't need
to say anything about him.
 
But I suspect we would find *MV* an even more interesting play if we didn't
turn all the characters into self-seeking controllers.  The tendency to make
all the characters essentially the same and to ignore differences in style and
attitudes (if not in "underlying" motives) seems to me to make the play
two-dimensional.
 
That doesn't mean we always need to take the characters at their word. And even
where the play shows two contrasting approaches to life (as I think it does),
it's helpful to see--as Shirley Kagan does--that the differences may arise in
part from forces and structures outside the characters' control.  (E.g., maybe
both Antonio and Shylock are products of their environments.  To some extent
they are both making money in the ways open to them.)
 
Still, I think it's clear the play invites us to see a contrast between
venture/risk/hazard/openness/generosity on the one hand and
control/safety/enclosure/hoarding on the other.  And for several reasons I
don't think we can simply dismiss the first of these options as merely a cover
for the second:
 
  (1) It's easy to assume that any "good" or "generous" behavior is
self-interested.  But when no character escapes this judgment (e.g., Cordelia
"really" wanted to impress everyone, get even with her sisters, and secure her
right to the British throne), then what we're really learning is how the critic
views human nature generally, not how the characters differ within the play.
 
  (2) In some cases there's solid evidence that, contrary to their pretensions,
particular characters are aiming mainly to promote themselves at the expense of
others.  Is this true of Antonio?  My impression is, that whilef the text is
that it leaves room for various interpretations, Antonio's attempts at
generosity are sincere. (But I'd be glad to be reminded of specific evidence to
the contrary.)
 
   (3) The fact that Antonio may be sincere doesn't of course mean that he's as
generous as he thinks he is.  There's plenty of evidence that the play's
characters don't live up to their ideals.  (And in particular the characters'
treatment of Shylock contradicts their rhetoric.)  But I don't believe that
means Antonio or the others are essentially vicious or are conscious,
calculating hypocrites.
 
   (4) How about Portia?  Is she a "control freak" and even more of a
controller than Shylock?  I guess that's an interesting way to look at her, but
I don't think it's a view the text requires of us.  (If appealing to other
characters or testing them makes one a "control freak," then many of
Shakespeare's characters, some quite surprisingly, would qualify.  Not to
mention Shakespeare himself--e.g., in prologues, epilogues, and the whole
course of many plays.)
 
If Portia is a controller, she certainly does it in a very different way from
Shylock.  Shylock doesn't like music or festivity, wants to close himself and
his daughter off from the rest of the world, and not only has a crabbed,
claustrophobic attitude, but an idiom that often reflects that attitude.
Whatever degree of controlling we may see in Portia or other characters, they
still have an open, risk-taking style (and corresponding language and ideals)
that contrasts with Shylock's.
 
Shakespeare (as opposed sometimes to Ben Jonson) creates characters who are
complicated enough that we can admire and yet be disappointed by them at the
same time.  Instead of being characters (usually) that we can easily condemn
and feel superior to, Shakespeare's characters often strike us as being
uncannily like ourselves.  *MV* seems to me to be much more dramatically
effective, and (besides) to have more ethical and philosophical substance, if
it includes characters who are really trying to be and believing they should be
generous, but whose attempts and awareness are flawed.
 
In fact, it makes little sense--and is certainly not very interesting--to find
flaws in characters if there is nothing in them except for flaws.
Self-interest becomes a much more interesting phenomenon when it's not simply
all there is, when instead it can be seen in counterpoint with some degree of
real or attempted generosity.
 
Yes, it would be naive and foolish to see *MV* as simply a romanticized
glorification of Portia, Antonio, et al.  But I think it's equally superficial
to see nothing positive in their ideals or actions.  When I say Shakespeare's
characters are "uncannily like ourselves," I'm thinking especially of this
difficulty in reducing them to good guys or bad guys.
 
Bruce Young
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Chris Stroffolino <
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Date:           Monday, 02 Oct 1995 20:52:18 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0743  Re: Antonio and *MV*
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0743  Re: Antonio and *MV*
 
In response to Bill Godshalk's question of "why, oh, why does Portia like
Bassanio?"---well--that's a good point--in terms of plausibility there is no
reason---but it seems that women liking men who are not their match is more
often than not the norm in Shakespeare--- think of Rosalind with orlando
(before she "teaches" him), Imogen with posthumus, even Titiania with Bottom,
maybe this gets to a crucial point in Shakespearean characterization of
women--i.e. Lucetta in TGV-- "I have none other than a woman's reason, I like
him because i like him"-- which is why many feminists say that women in
Shakespeare are often more aporetic than not(?)
 
      Chris Stroffolino
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Tuesday, 3 Oct 1995 12:59:56 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0743  Re: Antonio and *MV*
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0743  Re: Antonio and *MV*
 
The dispute between Antonio and Shylock regarding the lending of money at
interest reflects one of the most passionate debates of Shakespeare's time. The
aristocracy clung to the feudal/Catholic prohibition of usury as a social evil,
while the burgeoning middle class saw no harm in it. Lord Burliegh is known to
have commented at some point that he would like to see lending at interest made
legal, but that he was afraid to make his point of view known. If Shakespeare
was making some kind of political point about the lending of money at interest,
legal maneuvering, or the kinds of people who engaged in lending at interest,
he would not have been inditing jews as such, since legally jews had not been
allowed in England for some time (don't remember exactly when they were banned,
think it was not long after their banishment from Spain), and although there
were probably jews in England, they kept their origins a secret. As for Shylock
being an outcast in Venice, it is my understanding that there was a large
population of jews in Venice during the mid 16th century, with all levels of
income represented, including some wealthy enough to lend immense sums to the
governments of Europe. Indeed, this was often the only source of such funding.
This community was extremely powerful politically, and had no need to be
included in Antonio's circle.
 
Stephanie Hughes
 

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