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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: May ::
Re: Chooseth
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0841  Monday, 10 May 1999.

[1]     From:   Anthony Burton <
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        Date:   Friday, 7 May 1999 12:55:03 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0828 Re: Chooseth

[2]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Friday, 07 May 1999 22:52:11 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0828 Re: Chooseth

[3]     From:   Dana Shilling <
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        Date:   Sunday, 9 May 1999 13:27:33 -0400
        Subj:   The Belmont Spring of Mrs. Stone

[4]     From:   Dana Shilling <
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        Date:   Sunday, 9 May 1999 13:41:47 -0400
        Subj:   Gifts in Merchant

[5]     From:   Nely Keinanen <
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        Date:   Monday, 10 May 1999 14:40:51 +0200
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0823 Re: Chooseth


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Anthony Burton <
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Date:           Friday, 7 May 1999 12:55:03 -0700
Subject: 10.0828 Re: Chooseth
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0828 Re: Chooseth

The discussion of the nature of "gift" is taking us into wondrous
regions and producing a number of insightful comments, all of which
convince me ever more that Shakespeare operates simultaneously at
several levels of meaning; and I accept Dante's traditional four as the
best working statement of what they are.  As a form of exchange, for
either economic or spiritual value, Antonio's  and Bassanio's various
gifts lend themselves to different Dantean levels of reading.  But let
me suggest a further reading, one taken from the clairvoyant polymath,
Rudolf Steiner, that indicates what to look for at the highest level of
insight (approximately equivalent to Dante's fourth, or "topological"
level).

In Steiner's view, all striving for self-perfection contains an
irreducible element of egoism.  Not so with deeds of love:  "By
everything we do out of love [in its spiritual nature AB] we pay off
debts.  From an occult point of view, what is done out of love brings no
reward but makes amends for profit already expended.  The only actions
from which we have nothing in the future are those we perform out of
true, genuine love. . .  Love is always a reminder of debts owed to life
in the past, and because we gain nothing for the future by paying off
these debts, no profit to ourselves accrues from our deeds of love.  We
have to leave our deeds of love behind in the world; but they are then a
spiritual factor in the flow of world-happenings."

As a motive for an act in the world, love-as-exchange, love-as-duty,
love-as-self-expression all exist, and are all admirable, within
limits.  But the love which is not directed towards a foreseen objective
or to achieve a desired result belongs to a discussion at a higher
level; it does not have an either/or relation to any other love-related
impulse for action, but stands by itself, for the development of the
world.  And, yes, The Merchant of Venice does direct our thoughts to the
experience of this kind of love, along with its more familiar other
forms.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Friday, 07 May 1999 22:52:11 -0400
Subject: 10.0828 Re: Chooseth
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0828 Re: Chooseth

Frank Wigham writes:

>(If he [i.e., Bassanio] cheats the
>test, successfully assuming the mantle of the father's vestments, then
>we have a partial analogy with Jessica stealing her dowry/birthright.)

Over the years I've almost convinced myself that Portia does the
cheating (e.g., the song with the "lead" rhymes; her assertion that
she'd cheat rather than be married to a sponge) and, of course, I'm not
alone in that feeling.  If indeed Portia violates her father's "will,"
then the parallel with Jessica is closer.  Shylock wishes to keep
Jessica enclosed in his house, and she violates his living "will" as
Portia violates her father's dead will.  Both daughters gain freedom by
the violation.  Strangely, Portia seems confined to Belmont (that lovely
mons) until after her marriage.  As soon as the ceremony is over and the
unbedded husband sent away, Portia and Neressa are off to Venice!  The
difference is that Jessica takes her husband along on her buying spree.

Yours, Bill Godshalk

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dana Shilling <
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Date:           Sunday, 9 May 1999 13:27:33 -0400
Subject:        The Belmont Spring of Mrs. Stone

This weekend, I saw a NYC off-off-Broadway production of Merchant of
Venice that casts some light on several of the current threads.  I must
disagree with W. L. Godshalk (that Portia loves Bassanio because he is
gay and will not make excessive sexual demands). Leaving to one side the
debate as to whether pre-modern sexual acts and affectionate
relationships can be "gay", Bassanio seems to me an early candidate for
the t-shirt, "I'm not gay but my boyfriend is." I suspect he would have
preferred being kept by a woman, but Portia was his first chance. Before
that, he had to be the protege of a man much as Willie Sutton robbed
banks-because that's where the money is.

The female characters that Shakespeare approves of have an extremely
lively interest in sex, but are willing to limit it to marital
situations-even though Portia is willing to defer consummation of her
marriage in an emergency, I think she envisions many future
opportunities. (It's not like Bassanio is at the office 14 hours a
day...) Only Isabella is negative about sex in general and only Imogen
shows less than immense enthusiasm for marital relations.

As for genre, I pointed out that inability to produce keepsake much
valued by spouse = murder and suicide (Othello), or inability to produce
keepsake much valued by spouse = hilarity ensues (Merchant). My
boyfriend said that that just proves women are more sensible than men.
Perhaps comedy is the genre with sensible characters, tragedy the genre
with characters whose emotions overcome their good sense.

Dana Shilling

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[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dana Shilling <
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Date:           Sunday, 9 May 1999 13:41:47 -0400
Subject:        Gifts in Merchant

A remarkable amount of generosity in Merchant involves someone else's
money-Portia is the only person who ever attempts to give away any of
her own. Jessica gives Lorenzo Shylock's stolen ducats. Bassanio offers
Shylock Portia's money. Bassanio not only has to borrow money from
Shylock to give it to Bassanio-SHYLOCK has to borrow some of the money
from Tubal. And where is Gratiano going to get a thousand crowns if
Portia and Bassanio have the first boy? (The single-entendre part of
"stake down" suggests that he'll have to produce the thousand ducats
instantly.)

Merchant is also a kind of early Strange Interlude, except that the
characters say out loud what you might expect to be subconscious or in
an aside. Portia actually TELLS Bassanio to his face, "Since you are
dearly bought, I'll love you dearly," and Antonio not only refrains from
any attempt to conciliate Shylock but continues insulting him.

By the way, why does Merchant have so many speaking parts? Obviously
Antonio and Bassanio have to have someone to talk to, and there has to
be someone to marry Jessica (since Gratiano is needed to marry
Nerissa)--but why didn't Shakespeare just give the Salads' lines to
Lorenzo?

Dana Shilling

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[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Nely Keinanen <
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Date:           Monday, 10 May 1999 14:40:51 +0200
Subject: 10.0823 Re: Chooseth
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0823 Re: Chooseth

Pointing to the importance of the caskets, Dave Evett concludes that in
Merchant "Shakespeare offers as humanly possible a free, unconditional,
and authentic gift of the self by one person to another." In the
immediate context of the caskets, however, Portia is the gift, from her
father to the suitor who correctly chooses the casket, as she complains
at the beginning of the play:  "O me, the word 'choose'! I may neither
choose who I would nor refuse who I dislike, so is the will of a living
daughter curbed by the will of a dead father" (1.2.21-24).  By Act 3,
however, Portia seems to go from being the object of exchange between
men to being the subject or agent of her own gift-giving, as she says:
"I give them [her purse, her person, as it were] with this ring"
(3.2.171). The contradictions in Portia's character don't end here, of
course, as in some ways it seems that Portia retains control over her
wealth despite having "given" it away; e.g. her first response to
hearing about the bond is "Pay him six thousand, and deface the bond"
(3.2.299), hardly the words of somebody who not that many lines earlier
just signed everything over to her husband.

What does it mean, then, to be the gift, not just to "give" one, and how
can we take gender into account when we think about gift-giving, and
especially the giving of a child or one's self in marriage?  In response
to my first post, Se

 

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