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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: June ::
Re: Chooseth
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0969  Thursday, 10 June 1999.

[1]     From:   Judith Craig <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 9 Jun 1999 10:58:24 -0500
        Subj:   Re: Chooseth

[2]     From:   Barbara D. Palmer <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Jun 1999 00:41:12 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0963 Re: Chooseth


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Judith Craig <
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Date:           Wednesday, 9 Jun 1999 10:58:24 -0500
Subject:        Re: Chooseth

Judith Craig wrote:

>I would argue from the woman's point of view that Portia loves her
>father and respects his judgment:

And I agree from the play's point of view.  What no one seems to notice
is that the play is as absolutely about keeping your word and the
exceptions to that as The Odyssey is about the rules of hospitality.
Why else have the fifth act?  To a lesser extent, this is an obsession
of Shakespeare's most everywhere in his plays.  Try doing a word study
of the words forswear, lie, and their derivatives and synonyms sometime
throughout the canon.  It is very instructive.

This is why I am confident Portia does not tip off Bassanio as to which
casket to chose.  It is inconsistent with her character through the rest
of the play.  She absolutely believes of keeping your word, but also in
forgiveness.  From a stagecraft POV, there is not tension of she tips
him off.  This is a moment made for tension.

I know I'm swimming upstream having this opinion on this list, but I do
think a close and consistent reading bears this out.

Mike Jensen

In responding to Mike Jensen's post, I would agree and refer him to
Frances Shirley's book on Swearing and Perjury in Shakespeare's Plays
(London: George Allen & Unwin, 1979).  I am using that book on my latest
effort on Cymbeline but don't know what she says about Merchant of
Venice.  I sure it would be interesting, though!

Judy Craig

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Barbara D. Palmer <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Jun 1999 00:41:12 -0400
Subject: 10.0963 Re: Chooseth
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0963 Re: Chooseth

The present Michael Kahn production of Merchant  at The Shakespeare
Theatre, Washington D.C. presents a most astute reading of the text in
answer to whether and/or how Portia tips off Bassanio's choice of
casket.  In Bassanio's lines 37-38, he somewhat charmingly turns to
Portia "for deliverance"; in equally charming response, she didactically
punches up the word "music" in lines 43, 45, and twice in 48, pointing
Bassanio to the instructive music which follows in "A song, the whilst
Bassanio comments on the caskets to himself."  The song (3.2.63-72) is
sung by Portia's three waiting women, on the balcony above, who pound
out the song's "bred," "head," "nourished" rhymes to steer Bassanio
emphatically towards "lead"-and sound out "eyes," "dies," "lies," to
steer him away from the silver and gold caskets.  One of those many
moments when performance illuminates meaning, with both grounded in
text.  In this Shakespeare Theatre production, Portia maintains her
admirable character, keeps her word to her father, and manipulates "the
husbandry and manage of [her] house" to tip off Bassanio.  The tension
"from a stagecraft POV" which Mike Jensen rightly requires of the casket
scene comes from whether Bassanio is swift enough to decipher four
warnings to listen to the music and then six musical rhymes which direct
him to the proper casket.  The lady keeps her word.

Barbara D. Palmer
Mary Washington College
 

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