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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: April ::
Re: Who Chooseth Me
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0749  Monday, 26 April 1999.

[1]     From:   Ed Taft <
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        Date:   Sunday, 25 Apr 1999 10:56:46 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Who Chooseth Me

[2]     From:   Matt Kozusko <
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        Date:   Sunday, 25 Apr 1999 19:04:38 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0726 Re: Who Chooseth Me


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
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Date:           Sunday, 25 Apr 1999 10:56:46 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Who Chooseth Me

I'm glad to see Ben Schneider again contributing to this discussion, and
I look forward to reading about stoicism at his new web site. Ben was
kind enough to send me a chapter on MV that explains his views on how
stoicism influenced Shakespeare, and I read it with profit. But I think
that Bassanio must be held culpable, at least in a moral sense, for
"giving and hazarding" all that Antonio hath! Besides, the game is
rigged: Portia plays a little ditty to help her favorite out, some-thing
she did not do for the other suitors. Bassanio is so indebted to Antonio
that Portia must derive the ring plot to put Antnio in his place and
make Basssanio realize which bond (husband and wife) comes first.

This motif of the game being rigged goes far beyond the theme of
friendship and underlies the trial scene: it's rigged, too. The
Christians really hold all the cards once Portia arrives impersonating a
great Doctor. She can (and does) make up the rules so that Shylock
cannot effect revenge. that would be OK (or at least tolerable) if
Portia delivered justice to Shylock, but what she renders is seeming
justice under which is revenge on him. He is a broken man after the
trial.

At the very center of this play is a shrewd comment by Shakespeare on
how groups within a culture work. the dominant culture always riggs the
game and holds the highest rump card. The Christians in this play are
smug, self-satisfied, and sure of their moral superiority to Shylock,
and when he plots revenge against Antonio, Portia turns the tables and
effects revenge against him, except that her revenge "looks like"
justice, though it really isn't.

Shylock is the scapegoat, of course, and his haunting absence in Act 5
tells us that real justice would have been different. MV is about
friendshio, as Ben rightly points out, but it is also about the limits
of friendship. It is influenced by Seneca and Cicero, but it is also
about the limitations of classical thought. Put differently, who kicked
and spat upon whom FIRST?

--Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Matt Kozusko <
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Date:           Sunday, 25 Apr 1999 19:04:38 -0400
Subject: 10.0726 Re: Who Chooseth Me
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0726 Re: Who Chooseth Me


Frank Whigham writes, of Bassanio's motivation in 1.1:

>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.

I think it's misleading to suppose that Bassanio is in it only-or even
predominately-for the money.  That is, it's misleading to qualify
Bassanio's "love" for Portia with the quotation marks.  The argument
that he presents to Antonio showcases the financial part of the bargain
because Bassanio apparently feels that Antonio needs to be assured of
the prospect of financial success.  Bassanio insists on ignoring
Antonio's earnest conjurations to be even and direct; we can assume he
has taken great pains to prepare his text, if not to con it, and he will
not easily be drawn out of it.  THe concern with Portia's riches is part
of a rhetorically sound (if misdirected) argument designed to persuade
Antonio that this last venture will redeem all.

Matt Kozusko    
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