Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: September ::
Re: *MV* and Antonio
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 732. Thursday, 28 September 1995.
 
(1)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 27 Sep 1995 21:31:26 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0726  Re: Antonio and *MV*
 
(2)     From:   Amy E. Hughes <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Thursday, 28 Sep 1995 01:54:54 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   *MV*
 
(3)     From:   Terry Ross <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Thursday, 28 Sep 1995 09:17:49 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: Antonio & MV
 
(4)     From:   Piers Lewis <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Thursday, 28 Sep 1995 10:20:01 -0600
        Subj:   Antonio
 
(5)     From:   Steve Sohmer <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Thursday, 28 Sep 1995 12:05:09 -0400
        Subj:   MV
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 27 Sep 1995 21:31:26 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 6.0726  Re: Antonio and *MV*
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0726  Re: Antonio and *MV*
 
Regarding the title MERCHANT OF VENICE. Farmer and Henley, SLANG AND ITS
ANALOGUES, point out that "merchant" was a term of abuse, and from the
citations it's see to see that "merchant" in the late 16th century meant
"cheater." So, is the title a pun? Who precisely is the "Cheater of Venice"?
Does Shakespeare possibly suggest that all Venetians are cheaters -- in
different ways?
 
Why does Antonio lend Bassanio (a light-weight gigolo) money?  As auditors, we
have to guess, but the script indicates that Antonio and Bassanio have a
special relationship.  Are they and their friends actively gay?  Is Antonio the
rich, older man who is trying to buy Bassanio's love? Why isn't this a dramatic
possibility?
 
If it is, how does Portia enter the picture? Is she to repair Bassanio's
fortunes and to allow Bassanio to have his special relationship with Antonio
unrestrained?  If Bassanio thinks so, he and the audience see how quickly
Portia puts both men in places where she wants them.  Antonio ends up
guaranteeing Bassanio's faith to Portia.
 
But why, oh why, does Portia want to marry the light-weight gigolo?  Does she
love ineffectual, spendthrift, upperclass males? Or does she merely want a weak
husband that she can control without too much effort?  Or does she not really
see what Bassanio is like?  Does she pick the casket that's gold on the
outside?  (I assume that she controls Bassanio's choice of caskets.)
 
Yours, Bill Godshalk
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Amy E. Hughes <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Thursday, 28 Sep 1995 01:54:54 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        *MV*
 
I was impressed and moved by Barry Edelstein's production of MERCHANT at the
Public last Spring. Mr. Edelstein chose to include the homosexual implications
in his version, and I found it to be a very effective device, truthful or not:
 
Antonio and Shylock are a dramatic "couple" in the sense that conflict arises
between them for religious/moral/etc. reasons. Without conflict, obviously, it
is hard to have theatre; and these two merchants provide plenty of it.
 
However, they are not the only key figures in the play: Bassanio and Portia
must be included in that list. They seem to have little conflict between them,
outside of the ring, which seems a bit convenient, and only occupies the last
portion of the play. I give Shakespeare the benefit of the doubt and assume
that some greater conflict about *this* dramatic couple must exist. Antonio's
crush on Bassanio was what Mr. Edelstein saw as the conflict between Portia and
Bassanio.
 
It was just fascinating to see the sparks fly between Portia and Antonio and
suddenly, the play felt complete to me. Portia's jealousy fueled her way to the
courtroom, and it was her guilt that made her finally point out the error in
Shylock's contract. Her relationship with Bassanio and Antonio was intensified
and more important as a result of this "take" on Antonio's love-life.
 
As a young director I am learning that the text is indeed sacred, and that I
have a responsibility to it; but I am also learning that sometimes a play can't
work unless you add some considered assumptions that refresh and intensify
relationships between the characters. In the case of MERCHANT at the Public,
attention paid to this controversial, "lesser" aspect of the play did exactly
that.
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terry Ross <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Thursday, 28 Sep 1995 09:17:49 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Re: Antonio & MV
 
John Owen hopes the source of his paraphrase is recognized: okay, I'll bite.
It sounds like John Barton in the marvelous "Playing Shakespeare" episode
wherein David Suchet and Patrick Stewart play two very different Shylocks.
It's the best episode in the series, and very useful in a class (once students
get over the surprise of seeing Captain Picard as Shylock).
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Piers Lewis <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Thursday, 28 Sep 1995 10:20:01 -0600
Subject:        Antonio
 
Let's not forget that MV is a fairy-tale--an aristocratic fairy-tale; or at any
rate, more like a fairy-tale than, say, a play by Ibsen.  Or Shaw.  A critique
of the materialistic values of Venice (or London)?  Shylock's Venice perhaps
but not Antonio's or Bassanio's or Portia's; and certainly not from the point
of view of our contemporary liberalism.  The opening scene with Antonio and the
"salad-boys" presents Antonio as a great merchant-adventurer;  not a petty
money-grubber, but a lord of commerce who sends his argosies all over the
earth, willingly running the risk that his gorgeous silks may merely "enrobe
the roaring waters."  The poetry of that line, which has been much admired,
would be incomprehensible to Shylock, to whom ships are but boards and such
ventures (a key word in this play) as these of Antonio a useless extravagance,
a mere squandering forth of resources.  Why is Antonio so weary and so sad?
Merely, it seems, to give his friends a chance to try to cheer him up and
thereby make it clear from the start that this is no ordinary shopkeeper or
money-lender, like Shylock who instead of risking or venturing his money lets
it safely breed. (Shylock doesn't take chances, would never risk all on a throw
of dice or a riddle.)  Just as the weariness of Portia gives Nerissa and the
play a chance to show us that this is no ordinary heiress . . .
 
Piers Lewis
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Sohmer <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Thursday, 28 Sep 1995 12:05:09 -0400
Subject:        MV
 
To clear up some of the mystery about Antonio, the Merchant of Venice,
SHAKSPERs will find it useful to remember that this is one of Shakespeare's
"city plays," i.e. one of a handful of his plays which includes the name of a
city in the title. A common thread through these plays is the commodification
of love, honor, etc. SHAKSPERs will also find it useful to consult the
calendar.
 
Scholars disagree over whether MV was written in 1596 or 1597. The play was
registered on 22 July 1598, and owes a debt to Mosse's "The Arraignment and
Conviction of Usury" registered 18 February 1595. MV references a ship named
The Andrew. News of the ship's capture reached England on 30 July 1596,
according to Wells and Taylor.
 
Calendrical evidence within the play suggests 1596 as the more likely date of
composition. In 1596 there were two rival calendars. The English were then
living under the old Julian calendar, imposed by Julius Caesar on 1 January 45
BC. But most of the rest of the world was living by the Gregorian reformed
calendar of 1582, which was 10 days advanced. In 1.1, Antonio enters flanked by
two clowns, Salerio and Solanio. We know from the talk of masking and music in
the streets that the day is Shrove Tuesday. By the Julian calendar which was
most familiar to Shakespeare's audiences, Shrove Tuesday fell on 24 February in
1596. Due to the 10-day disparity between the rival calendars, on this day
Catholics observed St. Valentine's Day. This accounts for all the moody talk of
love in 1.1 of MV, and commends 1596 as the more likely date of composition of
the play. This argument is supported by evidence in Julius Caesar. A similar
(reversed) concordance of Shrove Tuesday and St. Valentine's Day recurred in
1599 when Shakespeare wrote Julius Caesar, and accounts for Cassius harping on
love in 1.2 of that play.
 
On the night of Shrove Tuesday, Lorenzo and Jessica elope. Presumably, they
consummate their union immediately, that is, on Ash Wednesday, 25 February
1596. Marriages could not be performed during Lent, and sexual abstinence was
observed. One must read this as a judgment of the (probably unsanctified)
union, which has become uneasy by 5.1. It is not clear that Lorenzo and Jessica
could have married before she completed the education and rites necessary for
becoming a Christian.
 
The Antonio-Shylock bond of 3000 ducats for three months must have been signed
on Shrove Tuesday, 24 February 1596, as it could not have been contracted
during Lent, during which time the law courts were closed and notaries were
banned from sealing oaths. Therefore, the debt came due on 24 May 1596 Julian.
This was St. Matthias' day in the Gregorian calendar. Matthias, it will be
remembered, was chosen by lot to fill the vacancy in the rank of apostles left
by the disgrace and death of Judas. Judas was the keeper of Christ's purse, and
sold his master for thirty pieces of silver. The emblem of Matthias is an axe
or halberd, signifying his death by an edged weapon. MV is replete with
references to, and cautionary lessons about, the love of silver (and gold). The
principal lesson is taught by the caskets of Portia, she who brings the message
of mercy to the court. The Gospel for St. Matthias' day is Matt 11, in which
Christ goes to preach to the cities. Christ's invective against the ways of
city people is strikingly appropriate to MV.
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.