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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: October ::
Re: *MV* and Antonio
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0784.  Friday, 13 October 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Joseph M Green <
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        Date:   Thursday, 12 Oct 1995 11:49:56 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0777  Re: Re: *MV* and Antonio
 
(2)     From:   Leslie D. Harris <
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        Date:   Thursday, 12 Oct 95 15:24:00 PDT
        Subj:   FW: Antonio and *MV*
 
(3)     From:   Shirley Kagan <
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        Date:   Thursday, 12 Oct 1995 11:04:47 -1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0777 Re: Re: *MV* and Antonio
 
(4)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Thursday, 12 Oct 1995 17:44:17 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0777  Re: Re: *MV* and Antonio
 
(5)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Thursday, 12 Oct 1995 22:57:53 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0776  Re:  Antonio and *MV*: Gaberdine
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Joseph M Green <
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Date:           Thursday, 12 Oct 1995 11:49:56 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 6.0777  Re: Re: *MV* and Antonio
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0777  Re: Re: *MV* and Antonio
 
Regarding William Godshalk's question as to why Shylock is converted -- the
answer seems to be that he is converted because this was considered a good
thing.  This is too well-known to need much elaboration. As for why Antonio
wasn't provided with a priest... not much can be made of this.  WS didn't want
one cluttering up the stage.  A priest isn't needed if confession has already
been made. WS didn't want to call attention to the Catholicism of his
Christians. He didn't think about it.  The priests were busy burning liberal
humanists.
 
Anent this last term and the whole sequence of events that one reader is
grateful for because it shows this and that person's humanness... I've tried
for some time to avoid the inference that the players in the drama I have been
"viewing" for the last years (by trudging home with "Materialist Shakespeare"
or by reading a liberal humanist screed obtained from the closed stacks by
means of a false name and a false beard that makes me look a bit like Erasmus)
would, in "real" life actually use these sorts of epithets.  That's why I have
avoided the MLA:  I didn't want to see some poor old fellow blinking into the
void as he tried to find a place at table and someone to talk to only to
overhear, in a stage whisper, hissings of "Oh, that's Professor Blank -- the
liberal humanisty essentialist."
 
But, things are as they are, and I would like to suggest that, since this is
so, some sort of system might be devised so that one can only read postings by
ideological sisters and brothers and, of course, so that liberal humanists
might be identified and appropriate action taken.  A system of virtual icons
would do the job -- the icons identifying the ideology of the writer and her
place in the food chain.
 
Liberal humanists would be represented by a tiny Polonius face (easy to find, I
would think) and this would appeal to their sense of irony and, for others,
tell us all we need.  Old Historicists are represented by a crown; New
Historicists by a Crown over a Death's Head (indicating their powerful critique
of the "absolute" rule of the Tudors); Cultural Materialists might want to
choose the dagger Macbeth saw before him, or they might (I think this is best)
choose a simple wheel of fire.
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Leslie D. Harris <
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Date:           Thursday, 12 Oct 95 15:24:00 PDT
Subject:        FW: Antonio and *MV*
 
Fellow SHAKSPERians:
 
I've read the thread about Antonio and *MV* with tremendous interest, primarily
because I'm as appalled by  _Merchant_ as those African-American students who
were silenced by "ethiop."  I think Shakespeare's culture is at times
disgustingly racist, and the depiction of Shylock (along with Barrabas before
him, in a more intentionally egregious way) is one example of that racism.
 
I think Shakespeare does give us a sense of the hypocrisy of the Christians,
though, since we learn of Antonio's abusive behavior towards Shylock.
 
One of the basic critiques against money-lending was that it violates Christian
charity.  If we are to be true Christians (and if we are all brothers under
God--and I choose "brothers" intentionally, since the world of commerce in the
play is a male one), then we should help one another in need.  We should give
to others out of the kindness of our hearts, and we should not profit from that
charity (otherwise it's not true charity). Shylock's money-lending violates
that principle (along with the related medieval idea that money should not
breed, and that usury involved money producing more money).
 
What's interesting to me, though, is that money-lending is condemned as a
violation of Christian charity, but making a profit on one's merchandise is not
condemned.  Antonio buys at one price, sells to others (including his fellow
Christians, I assume) at a higher price, and thereby becomes a wealthy man.
He expends a certain amount of money, and his return is a greater amount of
money.  The goods that people buy from him intervene in this equation, but I
wonder to what extent they are necessities and to what extent they are
fineries.  We learn that Antonio's vessels (that founder) are "richly fraught"
(II.viii.30) and that his "ship of rich landing" (III.i.2) wrecked itself.
Does that mean that they are heavily laden with objects (and therefore
collectively of great value), or does that mean that they are full of objects
that are collectively *and* individually "rich" (in other words, luxuries)?  If
we are all supposed to be "brothers" in our faith, why do we profit at our
brothers' (and sisters') expense?
 
Leslie Harris

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(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Shirley Kagan <
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Date:           Thursday, 12 Oct 1995 11:04:47 -1000
Subject: 6.0777 Re: Re: *MV* and Antonio
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0777 Re: Re: *MV* and Antonio
 
I'm coming in for another round.
 
John Owen's recent posting included the following:
 
"Recall, Shirley, that Shylock represents the penalty as a joke and that
Antonio treats it that way, calling it a "merry bond".  He would certainly not
do this if he had any idea that he would have to pay this insane penalty, or
that Shylock would insist on it.  Yes, Antonio is stupid above and beyond the
call of the plot for not recognizing the level of hatred he has provoked in
Shylock, but murder is not justified by the foolishness of the victim."
 
John also urged me to produce examples of the Antonio apologia and
anti-semitism that I had mentioned in my previous post.
 
Let me try and get one thing clear first.  When this discussion first started
(by Sam Schimek, I believe) the questions clearly referred to MOV in production
and the implications of Antonio's characteristics IN PRODUCTION.  I have
treated this discussion from beginning to end within that context and it is
within that context that I speak of Antonio apologia and justifications of
anti-semitism.  I couldn't care less if Shakespeare was anti-semitic within the
context of this conversation.  The only element I am concerned about is how we
read his problematic script in production TODAY as per the original post's
request.
 
Having said this I will refer back to your most recent post, John, and say that
in my opinion it is not at all clear that the bond is a total joke.  If it is,
why do they go to the bondsman to seal it?  If it is, why does Bassanio balk at
it?  It is also not clear that Antonio accepts it out of mere stupidity.  He
may be acting out of other motivations which have already been discussed.  I am
not insisting on one reading or another here, nor am I saying that your
interpretation of the script (because that's what it is - a performance script)
is incorrect.  All I am saying is that NOTHING is clear here, and can be played
several different ways with different implications.  For me, however, the
Antonio apologia and anti-semitism enter the debate when Antonio and the
Chriatians' side is taken out of some belief that that is what the text
requires us to do or clearly states.  As modern interpreters of a performance
script I think it is our duty to view "Merchant of Venice" as a fluid entity,
open to multiple readings.  The next step from that is to see why and where it
fits into the context of our own society, otherwise, why stage it at all?
 
Finally, I will venture that what has kept Shakespeare alive and vital in
performance to this day is precisely the interpretability of the scripts.  I
would suggest that this is why we see many more performances of "Merchant" than
we do of "Malta".
 
Thanks for the attention span.
 
Shirley Kagan
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Thursday, 12 Oct 1995 17:44:17 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 6.0777  Re: Re: *MV* and Antonio
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0777  Re: Re: *MV* and Antonio
 
Since we apparently have plenty of steam left for discussing Antonio and
Shylock, I'd like to point to two passages (both from the Riverside):
 
(1) *MV* 1.3.133-159:  In this passage, Antonio asks, "when did friendship take
/ A breed for barren metal of his friend?/ But lend it {the money} rather to
thinne enemy,/Who if he break, thou mayst with better face /Exact the penalty."
 These lines certainly indicate that Antonio will sign the bond with Shylock
even if Shylock presents himself as "the enemy."
 
Shylock goes on to suggest the "merry sport" of a pound of flesh, a sport which
Antonio accepts, even after Bassanio's warning (155-159).  Antonio tells
Bassanio that he will have the money to pay off the bond in three months.  No
problem.
 
So does Shylock pull any wool over Antonio's eyes by proposing the "merry
sport"?  Richard Levin (the younger!) suggests that Shylock is seriously trying
to make friends with Antonio here, and it's only after the elopement of Jessica
that he turns vicious. I doubt that suggestion will be accepted by many.
 
Nevertheless, the question: "Is Antonio deceived by Shylock at this point in
the plot?" remains open -- for me.
 
(2) *MV* 3.1.58-73, widely known as the "Hath not a Jew eyes speech?"  How does
this apparent assertion by Shylock of a common humanity, in which both Jews and
Christians participate, square with a vision of this play as basically
anti-Semitic? Does this passage complicate things -- at least a little?
Shylock seems to be saying that we Jews are just like you Christians -- even
down to the faults.
 
Of course, this passages ends with an indictment of the Christians -- an
indictment that I find quite telling.  Christians are not supposed to seek
revenge, and yet they do. That is, Christians have been trying to take revenge
on the Jews for the death of Jesus for hundreds of years. How does this square
with the basic teachings of Christianity?
 
One further point:  Kenneth Myrick used to argue that Jessica's marriage to a
Christian undermines the contention that the play is anti-Semitic.  Myrick
asked, if Lorenzo had genuinely anti-Semitic feelings, would he marry a Jew?
Myrick answered his question "no."
 
I realize that the present stage tradition is to represent the marriage beween
Lorenzo and Jessica as flawed, but it might just as easily be represented as
intimate, teasing, and acceptable to the Christian community.
 
Yours, Bill Godshalk
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Thursday, 12 Oct 1995 22:57:53 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 6.0776  Re:  Antonio and *MV*: Gaberdine
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0776  Re:  Antonio and *MV*: Gaberdine
 
Regarding the wearing of the gaberdine, Gila Safran-Naveh writes:
 
The Jewish gaberdine" was and is still worn by orthodox Jews (in NY and Israel)
for religious reasons in part having to do with modesty, etc. But it is also
true that in some parts of the world, Jews were forced "not" to wear certain
colors as well as certain types of fabrics (it had to do mainly with gold
fiber, purple colors, etc. Now the Halackhah, the Jewish law, is very clear on
the "kosher" types of clothing ( I really mean it) a Jew should/could/must wear
 
For instance, one has to know that the animal whose wool one uses was
slaughtered according to the law (least pain, jugular vein, recitation of
prayers etc) and that the fabric was woven also according to proper laws.
 
But rest asure that Shakespeare  was not interested in this. At least we have
no evidence  of it (and there were very interesting and  intelligent studies
done at the Hebrew U and at the Univ of Tel Aviv on the subject.) Oh, well, if
you really want to get into it, I might give you the email of a colleague who
was very much involved in these issues at the U of Beer Sheva.
 
(
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* * * *
 
So much for my idea that the gaberdine was enforced clothing for Renaissance
Jews.  Sorry if I misled anyone.
 
Yours, Bill Godshalk
 

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