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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: April ::
Re: Jessica
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0347  Wednesday, 15 April 1998.

[1]     From:   John Drakakis <
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        Date:   Monday, 13 Apr 1998 16:44:37 +0100
        Subj:   RE: SHK 9.0344  Re: Jessica

[2]     From:   Ed Taft <
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        Date:   Monday, 13 Apr 1998 14:10:19 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Jessica

[3]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Monday, 13 Apr 1998 17:02:14 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0344  Re: Jessica


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Drakakis <
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Date:           Monday, 13 Apr 1998 16:44:37 +0100
Subject: 9.0344  Re: Jessica
Comment:        RE: SHK 9.0344  Re: Jessica

A few point about Jessica to add to Frank Wigham's reading.

(i) She is a dangerous figure in the play because she elopes BUT the
father she elopes from is Shylock, whose house Launcelet Gobbo describes
as "hell".

(ii) She becomes a Christian and there appears to be no manifest
controversy about that in the play's dominant discourse.

The contradiction in Jessica's position stems from what the play
perceives on the one hand to be a desirable conversion from Jew to
Christian BUT in order to do so she has to violate the integrity of
Shylock's "family" to do so.

In the later play Othello, this leads to Desdemona's death.  In this
play Jessica's "Christianity" is validated by transforming her father
from Jew to Christian.  This is a very peculiar, and as far as I am
aware, unique occasion in a Shakespearean text where legitimacy is
conferred RETROSPECTIVELY on an action which violated a patriarchal
imperative.  The contrast is, surely with Portia who accepts her
father's injunction even after he has died.

Surely it is the internal distancing of patriarchal ideology in the play
(which cuts across the distinction between Jew and Christian) which
makes the "comic" ending so difficult to effect successfully.

John Drakakis

PS for Bill Godshalk.  I read as much as I could stomach of Lakoff and
Johnson.  You have GOT to be joking!

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
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Date:           Monday, 13 Apr 1998 14:10:19 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Jessica

I think that Phyllis Rackin hits the nail on the head when she suggests
that we look at Jessica's action in terms of the ring business later in
the play.  Just for starters, Bassanio and Gratiano at least give their
rings to valued people, but Jessica simply sells hers for a monkey.  B &
G must be taught a lesson about the meaning of the marriage bond, but
not, apparently, Jessica.  Jessica steals her ring, unlike B & G, but
she receives no punishment (unless her marriage to Lorenzo is the
punishment!)! B & G must be taught to value love over friendship, but I
guess that love of parents (of Jessica's parents, at least) is of so
little value that it can be trashed for a play thing.  And what about
the monkey itself? Maybe it points ahead to a new, better life based on
art, but what does it point back to?  The subhuman existence Jessica
endured at home?  That Shylock and Leah are/were subhuman?  Of course,
it may be that as a woman, Jessica understands marriage in a way that
B&G do not, at least that is one traditional reading of this business,
but it sure doesn't sit well with me.

Yours,
Ed Taft

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Monday, 13 Apr 1998 17:02:14 -0400
Subject: 9.0344  Re: Jessica
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0344  Re: Jessica

I'll concede to Frank Whigham and Ed Taft that as so often in these
fire-from-the-hip commentaries I may have been insufficiently careful
and full in choosing words.  My remark about eloping couples being
"sealed back into their tribes" (applied generally to all nine plays in
which elopement occurs) was intended to invoke community in the the old
C. S. Barber sense, not only the accorded folks on stage but the theater
audience as well.  I don't mean to imply that the place of the converted
Jewish heiress Jessica in that group is not more problematic-certainly
for late C20 audiences, perhaps for early modern ones-than the place of
Sylvia or Bianca or Anne Page or Innogen or Perdita or even Juliet, and
their respective husbands-or that it is politically or theatrically or
morally inappropriate for contemporary directors and actors to bring
those problems forward.  (Frank-that Randy Newman song really bites.)

But I do adhere to my conviction that the text of the play, apart from
the aggrieved Shylock's bitter complaints, does not censure Jessica's
flight-not the politically and economically authoritative Duke and
Portia, not the shrewd, observant, experientially authoritative servant
Lancelot Gobbo, not some institutionally authoritative friar or bishop.
It seems to me especially striking that a writer who pretty frequently
gives explicit voice to the regrets and anxieties of characters
alienated from their original situations by chance or choice-to both
Antipholuses and both Dromios, to Viola and Innogen in their sexual and
familial displacement and Edgar in his desperation, to Juliet in her
abandoned solitude and Desdemona in her confusion-gives no such voice to
Jessica.

Which does not mean that I do not find in the ending of the Miller
*Merchant* a haunting, bitter beauty, which Miller and his actors and
crew have done a lot of subtle, intelligent things to produce so that it
feels inescapable and right.

Dave Evett
 

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