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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: March ::
Re: Anti-Semitism; "looking-glass"
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0268  Friday, 27 March 1998.

[1]     From:   Peter T. Hadorn <
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        Date:   Thursday, 26 Mar 1998 09:42:59 -0600
        Subj:   RE: SHK 9.0254  Re: Anti-Semitism

[2]     From:   Frank Whigham <
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        Date:   Thursday, 26 Mar 1998 11:25:04 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0258  Re: Anti-Semitism

[3]     From:   Douglas Lanier <
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        Date:   Thursday, 26 Mar 1998 17:15:21 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0259  Re: R3's "amorous looking-glass"


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter T. Hadorn <
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Date:           Thursday, 26 Mar 1998 09:42:59 -0600
Subject: 9.0254  Re: Anti-Semitism
Comment:        RE: SHK 9.0254  Re: Anti-Semitism

I found Jacob Goldberg's response overly selective in its focus.  When I
teach *Merchant* I suggest that the play as a whole is intentionally
unsatisfying because we can't find ANYBODY to like with the exception (I
think, significantly) of old Gobbo (a helpless/hapless father who cares
deeply about his child and who is only abused by him).  A few examples:
Antonio, the "Merchant" of the play, would gladly abuse and spit on
Shylock again if he had the chance (1.3). Bassanio may be after Portia
only for her money (specifically, his exchange with Antonio in 1.1).
The same goes for Lorenzo for Jessica.  Talk about cheating fathers,
Portia may very well have provided Bassanio with the necessary clues as
to which casket to choose (to be sure, it's a director's choice, but
there are a number verbal clues that could be played to indicate that
she does just that).  And then there is her cruel cat-and-mouse exchange
in the trial scene.  Sure, she gives Shylock an opportunity to show
mercy, but then she gives everyone the impression that Antonio is going
to be killed (the scales are ready, Antonio bares his chest, and she
asks if a doctor is ready).  Only after this long tease does she reveal
her hand.  Why, I ask, doesn't she do this the moment she first enters
the scene?  So to say that Jessica is a villain because she is a Jew
(and I admit that this is not exactly what Goldberg said), is to
imply-falsely-that the others are good because they are Christians.
They aren't.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Frank Whigham <
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Date:           Thursday, 26 Mar 1998 11:25:04 -0600
Subject: 9.0258  Re: Anti-Semitism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0258  Re: Anti-Semitism

Re Leah's turquoise:

WS makes the thing "blown" on the honeymoon *unusual* (i.e., not just
"cash"), specifically detailed, in two seemingly meaningful ways: 1) it
has some kind of relic or heirloom status, whoever Leah is; it's
time-loaded; 2) it is traded for a monkey.

Shylock's reaction seems to me to be a wail of personal grief, activated
by the juxtaposition of the two attributes, which strike me as
contrastive.  If it's not a (special, consecrated) relic of Leah, I
don't know what her name is there for (though there may well be other
answers).

Trading a jewel for a monkey seems complex, if not opaque. Perhaps the
monkey is a quasi-homunculus, a fake human, and thus a comment of some
kind on Jessica's own rank/religion shape-shifting (also present in her
boy's disguise). Perhaps the degrading (if it is) trade is meant to show
some kind of psychic violence on Jessica's part. (I habitually teach
this in conjunction with her earlier balcony statement "I'll make fast
the doors and be with you straight," exhibiting a residual "fast-bind,
fast find" nominally Jewish trait even as she breaks away.) The flinging
away of a precious (and female-line) family jewel (in this complexly
uncomfortable and transgressive marriage) seems to go, semiotically
speaking, somewhere beyond youthful high-spirited prodigality of the
sort we find usual in honeymood behavior, seems to me. Surely at least
some of it is an ostentatious (well, maybe not; maybe just
self-directed) exhibition of "Christian" belonging, open-handedness,
anti-grasping (thus partly but clearly anti-semitic in my view), etc.

Anyway, I quite agree with Bill Godshalk that such high spirits are
there to expect. I just wonder about the Leah/monkey framing of the
jewel.

Frank Whigham

>yes, the two kids
>(I take them as very young lovers) are improvident and blow all the
>money on their honeymoon.  I realize that they should have considered
>investing wisely in blue chip stocks, but they're young and they don't.
>And, yes, Jessica and Lorenzo are dirty, rotten scoundrels.  But maybe
>some auditors really don't mind when the scoundrels get away with the
>cash, and maybe some auditors don't think that the marriage of Jessica
>and Lorenzo is doomed to failure.
>
>Leah may not be Shylock's wife.  She is not so identified in the text,
>only in the footnotes.
>
>Yours, Bill Godshalk

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Douglas Lanier <
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Date:           Thursday, 26 Mar 1998 17:15:21 -0500
Subject: 9.0259  Re: R3's "amorous looking-glass"
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0259  Re: R3's "amorous looking-glass"

Might the phrase "amorous looking glass" in performance be relatively
indistinguishable for a casual listener (someone not following a text)
from the phrase "amorous looking lass"?  I wouldn't emend the text to
reflect that possibility, but I do think that a listener might easily
hear it (or at least hear an interestingly productive ambiguity).

Cheers,
Douglas Lanier

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