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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: April ::
Re: Monkeys
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0306  Friday, 3 April 1998.

[1]     From:   Helen Ostovich <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 1 Apr 1998 14:39:54 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0292  Re: Anti-Semitism

[2]     From:   Ed Taft <
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        Date:   Thursday, 02 Apr 1998 10:07:18 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   SHK 9.029  Anti-Semitism

[3]     From:   Ben Schneider <
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        Date:   Thursday, 02 Apr 1998 12:13:20 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0298  Re: Monkeys

[4]     From:   Jacob Goldberg <
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        Date:   Thursday, 2 Apr 1998 16:25:10 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0289  Re: Anti-Semitism


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Helen Ostovich <
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Date:           Wednesday, 1 Apr 1998 14:39:54 -0500
Subject: 9.0292  Re: Anti-Semitism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0292  Re: Anti-Semitism

Re Frank Whigham's question about monkeys:  there's that reference in
the Induction of _Bartholomew Fair_ to satirically trained monkeys,
fondly recalled by the Stagekeeper, who longs for the stunts pulled by
:  "a juggler with a well-educated ape to come over the chain for the
King of England and back again for the Prince, and sit still on his arse
for the Pope and the King of Spain!"

Several other plays of circa 1600 make similar references.  See, eg,
_Ram Alley_.

Helen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
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Date:           Thursday, 02 Apr 1998 10:07:18 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Anti-Semitism
Comment:        SHK 9.029  Anti-Semitism

Dear John and Bill,

John Owen thinks my comments on Jessica are wildly romantic. Maybe so.
But I think that his comments minimize the emotional impact of this
whole monkey business episode. Jessica's actions from the moment she
leaves her house repudiate her heritage. She may "convert" to
Christianity seeking a better life; in fact, I think she does. But that
does not change what she rejects. Maybe to her, the monkey symbolizes a
new life that imitates art, as Bill implies, but that interpretation
does not really negate mine. Rather, it demonstrates the conflicted
ambivalence that so haunts this play. As Bill and John, know, symbolism
in Shakespear e is usually multi-faceted.

But I want to get back to Leah. (It means "cow."). Leah is not in the
play, just her name. She is not in Shylock's house, either. And Jessica
never mentions her, though she talks about her father and Lancelot
Gobbo. It is not wildly romantic to infer that Leah is now dead. After
all, that would make Shylock a widower and reinforce the interpretation
that he and Antonio are alter egos, that both are The Merchant of
Venice. These are inferences, of course, but they seem reasonable to me.
It also seems to me that both John and Bill construct interpretations
that try to duck the central issue of anti-semitism. Sometimes, John,
what is left out of a play is as important as what is in it.

Yours,
Ed

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ben Schneider <
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Date:           Thursday, 02 Apr 1998 12:13:20 -0600 (CST)
Subject: 9.0298  Re: Monkeys
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0298  Re: Monkeys

I think we should pay more attention to what the play says about rings.
The whole last act is ringing and ringing.  Gratiano says a ring's a
hoop of gold with cutler's poetry on it.  So do I.

BEN

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jacob Goldberg <
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Date:           Thursday, 2 Apr 1998 16:25:10 EST
Subject: 9.0289  Re: Anti-Semitism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0289  Re: Anti-Semitism

In SHK 9.0280, Larry Weiss asks, rhetorically, I think, <What authority
does Mr. Goldberg have for the notion that the contract (between Shylock
and Antonio) is legal?> and answers his own question <Portia ia hardly a
reliable source>.

Authority?  We can hardly expect to find a specific statute in the law
books of Shakespeare's Venice which specifically allowed the exaction of
a pound of flesh in lieu of repayment of a defaulted loan.  But
Shakepeare was very careful to make his audience aware that there was no
question in the minds of all the characters involved that the contract
was in fact a legal one.

Antonio and Shylock, both experienced businessmen in Venice knew that
the contract was legal when they made it. They had their signatures
notarized to be technically correct.  Bassanio urged Antonio not to sign
it because he too accepted its legality and its enforceability and was
fearful of the possible consequences.

Before the default occurred, Antonio learned that his wealth had been
lost at sea and that he would be unable to pay Shylock.  At no time did
he suggest that the contract was illegal and therefore unenforceable.

In the trial scene, in the Venetian Court of Justice, the Duke welcomes
Antonio with a great show of pity for his plight, but has been unable
(as Antonio acknowledges in his reply) to find any lawful means of
voiding the contract.  Quite evidently, both know that the contract was
legal and enforceable, and that the only way to save Antonio's life was
to seek mercy, not justice.

This is what Portia does.  And while Portia, as Portia is not, as Mr.
Weiss points out, necessarily reliable, Portia in the Court of Justice
is in the guise of a legal expert and nothing she says is ever
contradicted by anyone in the business city of Venice, not by lawyers,
not by businessmen, not by the court.

And what does Portia say?  (To Shylock) <Of such strange nature is the
suit you follow that the Venetian law cannot impugn you.>  If the
contract were illegal, would Venetian law be unable to void it?  She
asks Antonio whether he acknowledges the contract as his, and when he
does so, she appeals to Shylock for mercy.  Had the contract been
illegal, there would have been no need for mercy.

Portia (Bellario) recognized the contract as legal from the start.
(Bellario, in his letter to the Duke, had written that he had given
Balthasar (Portia) his opinion, and that opinion obviously did not
question the legality of the contract.

Portia says, a little further on, <lawfully, by this (the contract), the
Jew may claim a pound of flesh>.  Then, still before the trap is sprung,
<A pound of that same merchant's flesh is thine; the court awards it and
the law doth give it>...  followed by <the law allows it and the court
awards it>.

Then Portia springs her cute trap, which has been likened to giving the
right to walk across a field, and penalizing the walker for leaving
footprints.  But even as she springs the trap, she acknowledges the
legality of the contract when she says <take then thy bond, take then
thy pound of flesh...but!>.

After Shylock offers to take the money, Portia, who is apparently the
legal consultant, the prosecuting attorney, and the judge, disguised as
Bellario, tells Shylock <take thy forfeiture> and tells Bassanio
<he(Shylock) shall have justice and his bond>.

At no time, from the beginning to the end is the legality of that
contract questioned, not by the principals, not by the Duke, not by
anyone.

Rather than questioning the legality of the contract, it might be
appropriate to ask whether Shakespeare might have been satirizing the
Christian classes while catering to the anti-Semitism of the Christian
masses.
 

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