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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: March ::
Re: Postings Related to MV
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0175  Sunday, 1 March 1998.

[1]     From:   David Skeele <
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        Date:   Friday, 27 Feb 1998 11:03:55 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0167  Posting Related to MV

[2]     From:   Michael Friedman <
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        Date:   Friday, 27 Feb 1998 16:56:44 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0167  Posting Related to MV

[3]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Friday, 27 Feb 1998 17:40:45 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0167  Posting Related to MV

[4]     From:   Chris Gordon <
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        Date:   Friday, 27 Feb 98 18:17:56 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0167  Posting Related to MV

[5]     From:   Cliff Ronan <
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        Date:   Saturday, 28 Feb 1998 15:02:49 -0600
        Subj:   Launcelot

[6]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Saturday, 28 Feb 1998 16:31:46 -0500
        Subj:   Re: Is Portia Racist?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Skeele <
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Date:           Friday, 27 Feb 1998 11:03:55 -0500
Subject: 9.0167  Posting Related to MV
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0167  Posting Related to MV

>In the case of Kate, while she clearly responds to a
>sexism which creates the (seemingly) wimpy "good girl," Bianca, she has
>an out which is not available to Shylock, which is to "pretend" to be a
>subservient wife without quite losing her soul.

Is there any textual evidence that she is pretending?  I know that this
is a choice made in many modern productions (i.e., having her wink
knowingly at the audience during her last speech), but it always seems
to me to be a colossal cop-out.  Or are you simply saying that it is a
conceivable option?  Of course, by the same token, one could argue that
Shylock could simply pretend to be a happy Christian while practicing
his religion in secret-not much of a life.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Friedman <
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Date:           Friday, 27 Feb 1998 16:56:44 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 9.0167  Posting Related to MV
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0167  Posting Related to MV

In reply to Lysbeth Benkert-Rasmussen:

I, too, have always been puzzled by Lancelot's function in M of V, so
the last time I taught the play, I gave the issue to my students as a
paper topic.  Only one of them took it up, but the young woman who did
wrote a fine essay that she eventually presented at the annual
Undergraduate Shakespeare Conference at Susquehanna University last
year.  As I recall, she argued that the play sets up a parallel between
Old Gobbo's literal blindness to his son and Shylock's metaphorical
blindness (and deafness) to his daughter as a way of exploring the
relationships between children and emotionally distant fathers.
Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of the paper anymore, but Rachana
Sachdev, the organizer of the conference, at one point mentioned putting
copies of the papers on the Web.

Michael Friedman
University of Scranton

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Friday, 27 Feb 1998 17:40:45 -0500
Subject: 9.0167  Posting Related to MV
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0167  Posting Related to MV

Jesus Cora writes:

>I'm currently discussing _MoV_ with my fourth-year students and we have
>focused on Portia's words on the Prince of Morocco: "if he have the
>condition of a saint, and the complexion of a devil, I had rather he
>should shrive me than wive me." (1. 2. 123-4). Some students interpret
>this remark as downright racist. I have played the devil's advocate and
>have told them that she is simply stating her preferences as regards a
>mate or husband, that, after all, she admits that the Prince of Morocco
>can have very good "inner" characteristics, but his outside will not
>please her if he happens to belong to a different race. Thus, I asked
>them if she can be considered racist because she does not like the idea
>of having a member of another race for a husband or if these words are
>part of her self-assertion, part of her will to be independent, but not
>a discriminatory remark.

Portia obviously has a preference for a certain skin color.  But does
such a preference indicate that she is a racist?  Darwin's finches, I
recently learned, show color preferences in mating, except under certain
conditions.  So I suppose we have to define what we mean by "racist." Is
a racist one who believes that some people are inferior or superior (in
some ways) because of skin color and/or ethnic background?

Jessica marries Lorenzo, and Portia seems to accept this "mixed
marriage." (I realize that there is a critical battle about the level of
acceptance.) Jessica becomes a Christian, whatever that may mean in the
play, but obviously she was born a Jew.  Would a genuine racist
absolutely reject Jessica because of her Jewish blood and heritage?
About forty years ago, Kenneth Myrick suggested that that would indeed
be the case.

As you see, I affirm nothing, but go on asking questions.

Yours, Bill Godshalk

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Chris Gordon <
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Date:           Friday, 27 Feb 98 18:17:56 -0600
Subject: 9.0167  Posting Related to MV
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0167  Posting Related to MV

Jesus Cora wondered if Portia was racist, given her comments with regard
to the Prince of Morocco. When I have read, discussed, and taught the
play, my impression has been that Portia clearly wants nothing to do
with _anyone_ who is even slightly different from her. She dismisses all
her suitors except Bassanio, using a wide (and amusing) variety of
reasons. Does this make her an active racist in the contemporary sense?
Probably not. But she certainly is limited by her own views: she wants
nothing to do with a world beyond Belmont (and Venice), despite her
quarrels with her father's attempt to impose his will on her. Her values
do harm not because she is actively racist, but because she is passively
so. She cannot even begin to value what someone different from herself
might bring to her life. This is why I am always uncomfortable painting
her as the great hero of the story, a problem I don't encounter with
Rosalind or Viola.

Chris Gordon

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Cliff Ronan <
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Date:           Saturday, 28 Feb 1998 15:02:49 -0600
Subject:        Launcelot

Dear Lysbeth Benkert-Rasmussen,

Doubtless Launcelot prefers flirting with Jessica to wearing the
inferior livery, and eating the small meals, that Shylock provides him.
But finally Launcelot is a "wit-snapper" (III.v) whose sentiments are
unlikely to reach true love for her or anyone else.  In that, he bears
comparison to Lorenzo.  Too, there is the example of Launcelot's amusing
but cruel tricks on his blind father.  Worse, there is the matter of the
"Negro's belly; the Moor is with child by" him (III.v).  He is more
averse to treating Blacks as equals than Portia is, and he laughs off
questions of his responsibility to either the black mother or child.  In
a play full of counterparts, he fits among the single men-not quite so
arch or silly as Salerio and Solanio, nor as lonely and alienated as
Antonio and Shylock.  He is about on a level with the hollowly romantic
Lorenzo, who may be returning, in effect, into a single man again as the
first installment of his marriage money is gives out and he impatiently
has to wait for Shylock to die.  When his slapdash marriage comes
unraveled?

Cliff Ronan, SWTSU, San Marcos, TX

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Saturday, 28 Feb 1998 16:31:46 -0500
Subject:        Re: Is Portia Racist?

Jesus Cora writes that some of his students regard Portia's remark that
she would prefer not to be married to a dark man, no matter how virtuous
he is, as racist.  Later on in the play, after Morocco selects the wrong
casket, she says "Let all of his complexion choose me so" (II.vii.79).
She even makes her preference clear to Morocco, albeit in sweeter terms
(II.i.13ff).  Cora asks the members of the list to comment on whether
such sentiments are racist.

I don't believe there is a satisfying answer to the question.  Each of
us defines for himself or herself which racial preferences we regard as
legitimate and which are not, the latter being "racist."  To someone
whose racial sensitivity extends to matters as personal as the choice of
a mate, Portia is a racist.  To someone who regards a preference for a
member of one's own race as a marital partner as perfectly natural, her
expressions are unobjectionable.  The issue is not one of literary
criticism, but of social outlook.

I think a more interesting question would be whether it is racist to
cast Shakespeare's plays to type, or is it necessary to treat minority
actors as equally eligible to play white characters.
 

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