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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: June ::
Re: Various Merchant of Venice
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0428.  Saturday, 8 June 1996.

(1)     From:   Jasson Minadakis <
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        Date:   Friday, 7 Jun 1996 17:49:47 -0400
        Subj:   FAHRENHEIT's The Merchant of Venice

(2)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Friday, 07 Jun 1996 12:02:50 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0423  Various Re: *Merchant of Venice*

(3)     From:   Jacob Goldberg <
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        Date:   Friday, 7 Jun 1996 23:11:55 -0400
        Subj:   Merchant of Venice


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jasson Minadakis <
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Date:           Friday, 7 Jun 1996 17:49:47 -0400
Subject:        FAHRENHEIT's The Merchant of Venice

Greetings from Cincinnati,

I'm thrilled by the response that Bill Godshalk's review has generated (at
least from Dan Lowenstein).  I'm curious to hear what others may have to say
about our decision to have Shylock turn truely malicious after Jessica's flight
with Lorenzo.  You are welcome to respond to me directly at either the
FAHRENHEIT web site or through my direct line 
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 , or through
SHAKSPER.

As for Dan's rather heated response I agree that if the line read "I will feed
fat...", then Shylock would seem to have nothing else on his mind other than
taking Antonio's life.  However, Shylock does preceede this phrase with "If I
can catch him...".   Shylock recognizes the need to have an appropriate reason
to seek Antonio's life.   In our production we have tried to view the
Shylock/Antonio relationship as much in a business and legal sense as in a
religious one (Antonio's "I have oft delivered from his forfeitures..." giving
ample business reason for Shylock's inital impulses, "ancient grudge" lending
to the religious argument, the bond lending to the legal).

As for the delay in Shylock's definite decision to kill, I'll argue that it's
good business sense for Shylock to have Antonio his friend, or at least in his
debt, might keep Antonio's hand at bay on the next forfeiture.  Blatantly
killing a Christian in the Venice of the play would hardly be a way for a Jew
to stay healthy, we see how Portia and the Venetians can turn the law to their
favor at almost any time.  Additionally, if Shylock has already decided to take
Antonio's life, where do you go with "let him look to his bond" (3 times) and
"I will have the heart of him if he forfeit".  That's a really big "if", not to
mention the line is to Tubal, with whom I would think Shylock could be openly
honest.  Both of these come AFTER Jessica's flight.  So to say that Shylock is
actually after Antonio from I.3, the premeditated murder idea,  Shylock would
need to be a fool on a lot of levels. Even after Jessica's flight Shylock is
only going to go through with the exaction IF Antonio does not repay the loan.
Shylock knows the law, he not only needs it on his side, but as an alien in
Venice, he needs it to be air tight.  Portia later shows us the pretty traps
that the Venetians have for aliens who seek the lives of citizens.

The assumption that "Shakespeare's Shylock" wanted the pound of flesh from the
beginning is one interpretation of what Shakespeare wanted.  My opinion differs
slightly. We did not in any way play down the idea that Shylock would like
nothing better in the beginning than to have Antonio's head on a platter.  But
we also did not give Shylock so shallow a mind that he cannot see the benefit
of having Antonio "bound to him" as opposed to "dead at  my[his] foot".  As for
variation, we also play Portia, Nerissa, and Shylock's lines about the
Christian husbands straight to the Christian husbands (we edit from Folio and
leave stage directions up to each director, I'm sure I'll hear about that, too,
at least I certainly hope so).  Our Shylock moves for literal revenge in blood
only when the laws of Venice offer no recourse or assistance (Shylock's request
for the Duke to check Bassanio's ship is turned down when "Antonio certified
the Duke" Lorenzo & Jessica were not aboard, even more reason for him to lock
down on Antonio).

I regret anything that may sound rude in this post.  However, I always find
myself amazed at what people assume Shakespeare meant.  The beauty of the man's
work is that it has been reinterpreted over and over again for 400 years.  I
think it's arrogant to assume that  any one interpretation is right, or
adversely,"trite".  If you don't agree with me, good, makes for better
discussion.

Jasson Minadakis
Executive Director
FAHRENHEIT Theatre Company

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Friday, 07 Jun 1996 12:02:50 -0400
Subject: 7.0423  Various Re: *Merchant of Venice*
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0423  Various Re: *Merchant of Venice*

I won't touch Stephen Orgel's reference to size.  Let us assume that the
cutting of the pound of flesh is an allusion to circumcision, not a reference
to the weight of the prepuce.

Dan Lowenstein responds:

>  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?

My question is: how can we be sure what "Shakespeare's" Shylock intended? How
can we be sure what a dramatic figure intends to do?  If it is quite clear what
dramatic figures intend, why do Shakespeare's auditors and spectators argue
about intention?  My questions are meant to be rhetorical. We obviously do not
know precisely what dramatic figures intend.  Take Hamlet as an example.
Purpose is never "perfectly clear."  Take Richard Nixon as an example!

>(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."

Shapiro's chapter IV, "The Pound of Flesh," in *Shakespeare and the Jews*, is
not trite in any way--I think. Let me assure you that I have only touched on
the topic of the chapter, not given an adequate summary.  If you read the
chapter and find it trite, fine.  But let's read before we judge.

Yours, Bill Godshalk

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jacob Goldberg <
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Date:           Friday, 7 Jun 1996 23:11:55 -0400
Subject:        Merchant of Venice

Shylock's lines"feed fat the ancient grudge ...." should not be construed as
being related to his later attempt to kill Antonio.  Shylock had not read the
third act of the play when he made that statement.  That we who have read it
have hindsight does not mean that Shylock had foresight.  Look, Shylock knew
quite well that Antonio was a wealthy merchant. with many ships abroad and many
good connections at home.  There was almost no probability, in Shylock's mind,
I would venture to say, that they would all be wrecked and nothing saved.  And
even if they were, Shylock would have to assume, Antonio's wealthy Christian
friends would step in and save Antonio from the horrible fate to which Venetian
law condemned him.

No, Shylock's wish to "feed fat the ancient grudge" expresses his hatred of
Christians who have tormented him and his people for a thousand years and more.
 Shylock could not have foreseen, or expected,  that this contract would enable
him to realize that wish.

This does leave a couple of questions unanswered, and one wonders whether
Shakespeare intentionally posed them (though by implication only).  When
Bassanio went forth to see how good Antonio's credit was, he was unable to find
any Christian merchant or friend who would loan Antonio the money he needed.
Such a loan would have been interest-free, but it was not forthcoming.  Why
not?  Shylock, who could legally charge interest, offered the loan free of such
charge, perhaps to humiliate Antonio (which, to him, was apparently worth the
cost).  The second question, related to the first, is why did no Christian
merchant come to Antonio's aid when he faced death for non-payment of a
contracted debt?

Shylock's hatred overflows when the ineffable Jessica robs her father, goes
over to the enemy (that is, converts), and spits on her mother's memory by
trading the mother's ring, which the mother  had given to Shylock and which had
great sentimental value to him, for nothing, for a monkey.

Shylock struck back where he could - but within the law.

Jacob Goldberg
 

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