Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: February ::
Re: Merchant as Psychodrama
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0165  Monday, 1 February 1999.

[1]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Saturday, 30 Jan 1999 22:44:18 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0157 Is The Merchant a psychodrama?

[2]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Saturday, 30 Jan 1999
        Subj:   Re: 10.0161 Re: Merchant as Psychodrama


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Saturday, 30 Jan 1999 22:44:18 -0800
Subject: 10.0157 Is The Merchant a psychodrama?
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0157 Is The Merchant a psychodrama?

Brian Haylett suggests:

>The Act V quarrel between Bassanio and Portia shows no sign of settling
>until the otherwise silent Antonio speaks up for Bassanio 'my soul upon
>the forfeit'. This adds an element that was missing in the fight for his
>flesh in Act IV, and indeed in his previous thinking. What he says stops
>the quarrel on the spot - but why? It is perhaps the achievement of what
>was foreshadowed with Empsonian ambiguity in the opening speech of the
>play: he had to know himself, and in this play  he was to learn.

I see the play as a struggle of claims of ownership, disguised as
generosity.  Shylock pretends merely to be being liberal in his loan,
but claims total control over Antonio as his "bond".  Antonio's desire
for Bassanio is, it has been suggested, of a different and distinctly
less vampiric type, but he also is offering his life in order to have a
permanent claim over Bassanio's loyalty, regardless of Bassanio's
heterosexual marriage.  The struggle for the ring is a struggle between
Bassanio's loyalty to Portia and his debt to Antonio, "To whom I am so
infinitely bound" (5.1.135).  Antonio is, we might say, a failed Christ,
who has tried to die for Bassanio, placing him under an infinite debt,
literally sealing their bond with blood.

Portia must make Bassanio more indebted to her than to Antonio.  The
lightheartedness of most productions of this last act merely dissemble
her desperate battle.  When she marries, she declares to Bassanio that
"But now I was lord / Of this fair mansion, master of my servants, /
Queen o'er myself; and even now, but now, / This house, these servants
and this same myself / Are yours, my lord's" (3.2.167-171).  By the end
of the last act, she observes that "I have not yet / Entered my house"
(5.1.272-273) claiming her property once again.  She's won complete
victory:  Antonio is obliged to her for "life and living" (5.1.286);
Lorenzo is obliged to her for his adoptive patrimony; Bassanio is once
again bound to her by her ring, reinforced by the Antonio as "his
surety" (5.1.254).  The line you cite is, in my mind, the watershed
moment in which Portia succeeds in co-opting Bassanio's debt to Antonio
in order to reinforce his loyalty to her.

The play definitely has, as you put it, a "distinctly Christian"
metaphor.  Portia's "quality of mercy" speech, however, merely serves as
a foil to a fallen world in which nothing is truly gratuitous.  Every
gift here fits within an economy of exchange.  Nothing given by one
character to another qualifies as an absolute gift, like grace.

Cheers,
Se

 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.