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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: April ::
Re: Who Chooseth Me
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0726  Friday, 23 April 1999.

[1]     From:   Pete McCluskey <
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        Date:   Thursday, 22 Apr 1999 09:33:21 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   SHK 10.0694 Who Chooseth Me

[2]     From:   Frank Whigham <
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        Date:   Thursday, 22 Apr 1999 10:54:38 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0708 Re: Who Chooseth Me


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pete McCluskey <
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Date:           Thursday, 22 Apr 1999 09:33:21 -0600 (CST)
Subject: Who Chooseth Me
Comment:        SHK 10.0694 Who Chooseth Me

John Velz writes, "all the suitors, Bassanio must (if a loser in the
lottery) abandon all hope of marriage to any other woman."  Although
Arragon repeats the conditions of the casket game, the scroll he finds
inside the silver casket implies that he may marry: "Take what wife you
will to bed, / I will ever be your head" (2.9.70-1).  Has Arragon in
fact been released from the prohibition against marriage?

On a slightly-related note, does anyone know whether Morocco has ever
been played with a lisp?  Since his speech suffers from a surfeit of
s-sounds, such as the lines, "By this scimitar / That slew the Sophy and
a Persian prince / That won three fields of Sultan Solymon," such
staging might suggest that beneath his golden exterior lies a silly,
shallow simpleton.  (cf. the Roman Centurion with the naughty name in
Monty Python's "Life of Brian" who publicly orders the release of
"Thamthon the Thaduthee thrangler ... Thiluth the Thyrian athathin ...
theveral thedithiouth thcribeth from Ceatharea"-an imposing figure until
he opens his mouth.)

Selling sea shells by the sea shore,
Pete McCluskey

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Frank Whigham <
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Date:           Thursday, 22 Apr 1999 10:54:38 -0700
Subject: 10.0708 Re: Who Chooseth Me
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0708 Re: Who Chooseth Me

I certainly agree with my friend Bruce Young that more compassionate
motives for marriage were available (confusingly and complexly)
alongside the hierarchical ones, as the Homily on Matrimony shows.
Nonetheless, whatever emotions or motives we impute to Bassanio during
his interrogation of the caskets, he does go to Belmont to solve his
liquidity problems. When Antonio says, "Tell me about this new lady"
(1.1.119-21), Bassanio answers, "'Tis not unknown to you, Antonio, / How
much I have disabled mine estate .  . ." (122-23). Then at 161: "In
Belmont is a lady richly left . . . ." The results of his correct casket
choice certainly include Portia transferring her enormous wealth to him
(to my mind, in a conspicuously potlatch fashion -- but that's another
story). No wonder he "loves" her. He offers her his own "wealth" in
return, of course: the blood that runs in his veins. Some may think it
appropriate to speak of "love" in this marriage, but whatever else we
may think, the play actively emphasizes the financial-acquisition
motive, and makes the transfer-imbalance extreme.

Stone says that "for a young man of gentle birth, the fastest ways of
moving up the social scale  were the lotteries of marriage with an
heiress, Court favour, and success at the law. The first of the three is
usually neglected or ignored by social historians, but it was probably
the commonest method of upward movement for gentlemen: ("Social
Mobility" P&P 33 [1966]: 17-55; quoted from 34-35).

Whether coverture is at issue here may depend on whether we think WS is
working with an English or Venetian model of marriage, but marital
securing of solvency has to be, it seems to me. How it may inflect
emotional matters is a complex question, but one thing we do not have is
a father marrying off his son for the cash (Bassanio has no father, has
only elective relations), a pattern often linked with filial and/or
parental prodigality and with unapproved love-match desires. Whatever
Bassanio's motives are, they're his, and among them the play centralizes
the financial element (though not to the exclusion of others).

I do agree with John Velz that Bassanio offers his rich new wife his
lifestyle. Such a deal. She gets a husband who lives happily beyond his
means, whose trip to Belmont was precisely lifestyle-driven. I expect
she knows this perfectly well, of course; and feels, like Octavius, that
she "can stand the waste." Since he is dearly bought, she will love him
dearly.

Frank Whigham
 

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