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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: April ::
Re: Jessica
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0357  Friday, 17 April 1998.

[1]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Thursday, 16 Apr 1998 14:16:55 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0347 Re: Jessica

[2]     From:   John Drakakis <
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        Date:   Thursday, 16 Apr 1998 20:50:05 +0100
        Subj:   RE: SHK 9.0353  Re: Jessica


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Thursday, 16 Apr 1998 14:16:55 -0400
Subject: 9.0347 Re: Jessica
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0347 Re: Jessica

John Drakakis observes that in those parts of *Merchant of Venice*
concerned with Jessica two large ideologies compete for primacy,
patriarchy and Christianity, and when Jessica submits to the claims of
Christianity her rejection of the claims of patriarchy is forgiven. So
far so good.  He goes on to assert that " 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."  Maybe I'm only
misunderstanding "retrospectively," but it seems to me, as I argued in a
recent post, that the comedies (plus *Rom*) repeatedly confer
retrospective legitimacy on subversions of patriarchy; even Othello's
marriage to Desdemona, though not accepted by her father, is endorsed by
the Duke and Council.  In some cases, indeed, the retrospect is not very
long-Sylvia and Valentine, Lucentio and Bianca, Hermia and Lysander,
Fenton and Anne Page-have only been together a few hours when they are
reconciled to their fathers, and only the second and fourth of these
couple are actually married at that point.  Those fathers' resistance is
correspondingly brief.  In *Cymbeline* and *Winter's Tale*, paternal
resistance is more vocal and extensive, the time prior to reconciliation
longer, and the issue phenomenologically therefore more significant-but
then, so also its resultant interrogation of patriarchy as ideology.

We can to some extent discrimate among these cases according to agency.
Julia's father the Duke, Page (with encourgement from Ford), and
Cymbeline explicitly approve their new sons-in-law of their own free
will; Baptista does so tacitly.  The meeting of Polixines, Perdita, and
Florizel occurs offstage, and Polixenes' statements are not reported;
but nothing in the final scene suggests that he is not happy.  Capulet
first offers the hand of reconciliation to Montague and matches the
latter's readiness to endorse the secret marriage of their children
publically by statue if not statute.  By contrast Egeon is overruled by
Theseus, never does explicitly accept or endorse the marriage, and
almost immediately disappears from the play; it would be possible to
perform the role so as to suggest continuing dissatisfaction, even
anger, at his disobedient child, his new son-in-law, and his overweening
prince.  Brabantio, too, is overruled by superior authority-here,
patriarchy, military expediency, and Petrarchanism all seem to
interact-and remains unconciled.  So is it with Shylock, unless we can
interpret his "I am content" as literal-not possible for most of us, I
suppose. On balance, then, these plays tweak if they do not overturn
patriarchy.  But some of these outcomes are, in their ways, equivocal.

Dave Evett

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Drakakis <
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Date:           Thursday, 16 Apr 1998 20:50:05 +0100
Subject: 9.0353  Re: Jessica
Comment:        RE: SHK 9.0353  Re: Jessica

I think Chris Stroofolino is right to pull me up on the question of
Jessica in The Merchant.  I saw a production recently in which at the
very end of the play- and after Lorenzo and his fellow Christians have
settled everything, the door is shut on a sobbing Jessica who is locked
out of Belmont.

However, the substantive point that I want to make is that the "theft"
from Shylock is clearly justified in the play, and the conditions of his
conversion to Christianity involve his behaving like a Christian father
to his daughter.  My point is that that in itself serves to legitimize
Jessica's position and to wipe off the stain attached to elopement.
That way, at the end of the play (however a theatrical company may
choose to register it) the "family" is reconstituted.

The question of the rings is a little more complex I think. In selling
Shylock's ring Jessica violates the integrity of a clearly patriarchal
family, and it is this that complicates any clearly anti-semitic
response to Shylock.  He is marginalized as a Jew, but he changes
position as the head of a household who has a daughter.  Here the play's
discourses (I want to argue) bifurcate. This, I contend, is unusual in
Shakespeare.

The upshot of this is that when Chis Stroffolino talks about the
"counter-discourse" in the play then he may well be in danger of
reducing a plurality of historically specific and in part competing
discourses to a straightforward binary opposition. I think we CAN talk
about a dominant discourse in the play though I would also want to
contend that it is a dominant discourse in trouble. Portia's acceptance
of Bassiano indicates just how troubled part of that discourse is, and
the final act of the play pushes this a stage further. The point is, I
think, that what troubles it ("female sexuality", or even other forms of
anarchic sexuality - cf. the pun on "rings" applied to male actors of
female roles) can be maneuvered into those social institutions that are
specifically designed to deal with it.  If we read the ending
symptomatically and not as a product of fully transcendent authorial
intention, then we can separate our READING from those forms of
articulation that we attribute to the dramatic characters themselves.
The two positions are not and need not be identical with each other.

Cheers,
John Drakakis
 

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