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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: May ::
Re: Chooseth
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0823  Thursday, 6 May 1999.

[1]     From:   Ed Taft <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 05 May 1999 10:55:13 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Chooseth

[2]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 05 May 1999 13:36:44 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0818 Re: Chooseth


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
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Date:           Wednesday, 05 May 1999 10:55:13 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Chooseth

In line with Frank Whigham's comments about why altruism may always
contain some element of self-interest. It seems to me that the gifts of
Antonio and Portia need to be analyzed. Antonio's loan to Bassanio
(which is a kind of gift because it is given at the needed moment) may
be seen as a demand for emotional "interest" in the future. That is,
Antonio is putting Bassanio in emotional  debt that can be called upon
even after the marriage to Portia. (It seems to me that Portia senses
exactly this fact.) Later, in the trial scene, when Antonio agrees (too
eagerly?) to suffer the penalty of his bond with Shylock, he says,

        Commend me to your honorable wife
        Tell her the process of Antonio's end
        Say how I loved you, speak me fair in death;
        And when the tale is told, be her be judge
        Whether Bassanio had not once a love.
                                (4.1. 273-77)

Can't these lines indicate a passive-aggressive attempt at revenge?
Portia can't match what I will do for you! My love is greater, and may
this fact haunt both of you in the future!  If carried out, Bassanio
would see Antonio's bleeding heart, which would haunt him forever and
PERHAPS haunt his marriage to Portia as well.

As for Portia, in 4.1 352-353, she gives 1/2 of Shylock's wealth to
Antonio (the sentence is changed, later), perhaps to "pay off" Antonio
so that he can have no further claims on Bassanio?

From such a point of view, the difference between Shylock and the
Christians is that he is explicit about the interest he charges and the
revenge he seeks. Not so the Christians, especially Antonio, who may not
even understand why he says what he says.

--Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Wednesday, 05 May 1999 13:36:44 -0400
Subject: 10.0818 Re: Chooseth
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0818 Re: Chooseth

Thanks to Sean and Frank for stimulating additions to what I find to be
an exceptionally interesting if difficult thread.  In the particular
context of Mer the crucial problem is posed by the caskets.  It is they,
practically speaking, who "give" Portia's money and person to Bassanio
(as they would have "given" them to Morocco or Aragon or the Duke of
Saxony's Scottish nephew had any of those worthies chosen aright).
Hence what is it that Portia has left to "give" Bassanio?  The
constructed Self of which Frank Whigham speaks?  I find a gloss on this
in the parodic (?) version of the episode at the climax of Othello:
"Witness that here Iago doth give up / The execution of his wit, hands,
heart / To wronged Othello's service"-a moment routinely treated as a
kind of diabolical betrothal in the criticism of that play.  On this
basis I would argue that within Mer (and at other points as well)
Shakespeare offers as humanly possible a free, unconditional, and
authentic gift of the self by one person to another.  Which doesn't mean
that such a gift won't get banged around by circumstance, and remain
forever as pure and whole as when first offered.

Historically, by the way, because the casket story seems to arise from a
realm not only precapitalistic but preclassical and preliterate, I would
be curious to hear from anybody out there who is familiar with ideas
about gifts in premodern Celtic and Germanic societies, from whose stock
of tales this one might have come to Shakespeare.

As for Clifford Stetner's ingenious allegorization of Jessica as Divine
Grace producing the Elizabethan Settlement, it seems to me impossible to
sustain through the images of the eloping lovers' profligacy (Leah's
turquoise for a monkey is bad stewardship in any economy) and those
curious dark allusions in the garden scene-Troilus and Cressida, Dido
and Aeneas, Pyramus and Thisbe, Medea (5.1.1-14).

Dave Evett
 

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