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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: March ::
Re: Anti-Semitism
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0274  Saturday, 28 March 1998.

[1]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Friday, 27 Mar 1998 09:34:03 -0800
        Subj:   SHK 9.0268  Re: Anti-Semitism

[2]     From:   Dale Lyles <
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        Date:   Saturday, 28 Mar 1998 09:15:58 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0268  Re: Anti-Semitism


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Friday, 27 Mar 1998 09:34:03 -0800
Subject: Re: Anti-Semitism
Comment:        SHK 9.0268  Re: Anti-Semitism

It is me, or is it everyone else?

Whenever I ask that question I realize the blind spot is probably my
own.  Feel free to set me straight, but be polite or I'll tell your
mothers.

I have read the exchanges about Merchant, but do not feel I have learned
very much about the play (and for me, the play's the thing).  Perhaps we
are taking the wrong approach?

Before suggesting an approach, let me confess that this play baffles
me.  My understanding of it has grown immensely over the past four
years, but I still don't <get it.>

I don't think it is about Jewishness, Christianness, or even Otherness,
not really.  I think those are used to examine the nature of
commitment.  Commitment and the breaking of commitments are everywhere
in the play.  Two questions are when it is ok to break your word, and
when it is not.  Two others are when are you committed to people, as
Protia feels a commitment to the friends of Bassanio, and when are you
free to leave a commitment, as when Launcelot Gobbo leaves his master
and Jessica her father.  I'm not sure I want to claim that every
incident and every character interacts with these issues, but they
inform nearly every action by nearly everyone in the play.

This is seen in Portia faithfully keeping the will of her dead father.
It impacts whether or not she tips off her suitor.  There is the bond
with Shylock, the commitment between friends to lend money and moral
support, the lies and betrayal of Jessica,  Shylock's insistence on his
bond, his swearing an oath to collect the bond (!), the quality of
mercy, the forced commitment to another religion, the giving of rings
and the promise to keep them always, the ring trick, the chiding, the
forgiveness.  Have I missed anything?  Probably.

I do NOT claim race is not an issue in the play.  The comments about the
first suitor nail down the fact that it is a powerful issue.  I do think
the plot suggests it is not the primary issue.  I suspect the places of
these varied characters will come into focus when we sort out the ideas
about commitment, when oaths must be kept, when oaths should be broken,
and IF race influences your approach to these bonds (I think it doesn't,
but am not yet sure).

Humbly, because I haven't sorted it out myself,
Mike Jensen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dale Lyles <
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Date:           Saturday, 28 Mar 1998 09:15:58 EST
Subject: 9.0268  Re: Anti-Semitism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0268  Re: Anti-Semitism

One significance of the ring/monkey trade is the fact that monkeys are
temporary: pets die, even if they are not cast off as no longer
interesting or amusing.  Jessica has traded an heirloom for a toy, and a
mortal one at that.  There's a lot of emotion packed away in that
realization; no wonder Shylock is stricken.

Dale Lyles
Newnan Community Theatre Company
 

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