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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: June ::
Various Re: *Merchant of Venice*
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0423.  Friday, 7 June 1996.

(1)     From:   Stephen Orgel <
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        Date:   Thursday, 6 Jun 1996 13:39
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0421  Fahrenheit *Merchant*

(2)     From:   Jacob Goldberg <
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        Date:   Thursday, 6 Jun 1996 16:44:57 -0400
        Subj:   Merchant of Venice

(3)     From:   Daniel Lowenstein <
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        Date:   Thursday, 6 Jun 1996 16:44:40 PST
        Subj:   Re: Fahrenheit's *Merchant of Venice*


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephen Orgel <
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Date:           Thursday, 6 Jun 1996 13:39:57 -0800
Subject: 7.0421  Fahrenheit *Merchant*
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0421  Fahrenheit *Merchant*

        Re: Bill Gottschalk/Jim Shapiro

Dear Bill (dear Jim):

A POUND? Wow!

Cheers,
Stephen Orgel

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jacob Goldberg <
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Date:           Thursday, 6 Jun 1996 16:44:57 -0400
Subject:        Merchant of Venice

June 6, 1996

In his book, Shylock, sub-titled The History of a Character, Herman Sinsheimer,
a German Jew, traces the history of the pound of flesh fable, one of the two
fables upon which Merchant of Venice rests.  One of the earliest origins, says
Sinsheimer, is a story in the Talmud.  Let me quote from his book:  "In the
Talmud, there is a legend about Moses coming down from Sinai and seeing an
eagle carrying a lamb in its beak.  In a rage, Moses upbraids the eagle for
being about to kill a fellow animal, just when he, Moses, had received the
commandment of God: Thou shalt not kill!  The eagle drops its prey, but comes
down to Moses, asking him to feed its young himself.  At this, the holy man
bares his breast and offers his own flesh to the bird of prey."

Sinsheimer does not specify the Talmudic source of this legend.  Does anyone
know of this story and where in the Talmud it is to be found?

The book, Shylock, was written in Germany and passed the Nazi censor in 1937,
but by 1938, all opportunity to publish it in Germany had disappeared. It was
eventually published in London, I think, about 1947.

Sinsheimer tells, also, of a morality play, The Three Ladies of London, first
performed in London in 1584, in which the debtor-creditor relationship is acted
out.  In this play, the Jew, Gerontus, is the creditor, and the Christian,
Mercadore, a London merchant (from Venice), is the debtor (Shylock and
Antonio).  But here, there is no pound of flesh but Mercadore refuses to pay
and threatens to convert to Islam (the scene is in Turkey), which act would
release him from his obligations.  Gerontus pleads with him not to renounce his
faith, and finally remits the whole debt lest he might be held guilty of
Mercadore's perjury.  When Mercadore tells the Judge

        ...not for all da good in da world
        me forsake a may Christ.

the Judge replies

        One may judge and speak truth, as appears by this:
        Jews seek to excell in Christianity and Christians in Jewishness.

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Daniel Lowenstein <
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Date:           Thursday, 6 Jun 1996 16:44:40 PST
Subject:        Re: Fahrenheit's *Merchant of Venice*

I should not have been so dismissive of the "Merchant" production, described by
Godshalk, which I have not even seen. Especially in light of the appropriate
concern recently expressed for civility in this list, I apologize for a message
that was too nasty in its tone.

I have no reason to question Godshalk and his companions' praise of the
production from their standpoint as members of the audience. The point I wanted
to make is that Godshalk's description makes it clear that in many respects the
production departs from any plausible interpretation of the script.  In his
response, Godshalk says that although the production's Shylock does speak the
"feed fat the ancient grudge" lines, still, Godshalk's impression was that THIS
Shylock did not intend to enforce the bond until Jessica eloped, etc. That is
exactly my point.  This Shylock did not intend to enforce the bond, but
Shakespeare's did.  What other purpose can there be for the "feed fat the
ancient grudge" lines?

Certainly, the script leaves open many options for the director. For example,
Godshalk indicated that in the Cincinnati production, there was no "cheating"
to assist Bassanio in selecting the correct casket.  I strongly agree with the
director's choice on that point. Still, many directors make the opposite
choice, and nothing in the text unequivocally prevents it.

But the fact that many choices are available does not mean that all choices are
available.  Of course, there is nothing unusual nowadays about directors
deciding that Shakespeare's plays are inadequate, and substituting their own.
(Or critics--witness the ludicrous suggestion of Shapiro, reported by Godshalk,
that the pound of flesh refers to a circumcision.)  This is what I was getting
at when I referred to a production of this sort as "trite."

So, I stand my ground, but I regret using negative language that was glib and
overbroad.

                                Best,
                                Dan Lowenstein
                                UCLA Law School
 

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