1999

Re: Chooseth

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1003  Tuesday, 15 June 1999.

[1]     From:   Chris Stroffolino <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Sunday, 13 Jun 1999 23:08:08 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0993 Re: Chooseth

[2]     From:   Clifford Stetner <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Monday, 14 Jun 1999 13:01:44 -0400
        Subj:   Chooseth

[3]     From:   Judith Craig <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Monday, 14 Jun 1999 13:43:03 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 10.0993 Re: Chooseth


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Chris Stroffolino <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Sunday, 13 Jun 1999 23:08:08 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 10.0993 Re: Chooseth
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0993 Re: Chooseth

In response to Mike Jensen, it's possible that Portia is not telling an
out and out lie when she vows to live in prayer and contemplation in
3.4. Sure, she dresses up as a male judge, but there is no indication
that her actions in Act 4 definitively preclude "prayer and
contemplation" as such. Given the comically severe skepticism in this
play, as well as its attempts to break down the "worldly" vs.
"otherworldly" dualism so beloved of traditional popular Xtianity ("what
does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul" for
instance), it would be in line that Shakespeare is asking us to
reconsider, and perhaps redefine, the relationship between "prayer and
contemplation" and Portia's worldliness. Certainly she's contemplative,
and she also has her prayers.

----chris

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 14 Jun 1999 13:01:44 -0400
Subject:        Chooseth

I am busy completing papers so I don't have ready access to the
citations, but two things I came across recently support my views of the
meaning of the Merchant of Venice:

An Elizabethan play or poem called "Jacob and Esau," which takes a
biblical legend once used by the Roman Church as an Old Testament
prophecy of the passing of the old dispensation of the Jews to the
Christians and adapts it to the English Reformation.  This is the kind
of ideology I see unifying the various threads of the plot of the
Merchant (note also that Jacob appears in Shylock's relation of one of
the most morally problematic episodes in the Old Testament: the story of
Jacob and Laban, as a defense of capitalism)

Second, I originally read Portia as representing a kind of Spenserian
aspect of Elizabeth's persona.  Her father's will in this play primarily
figures the sovereignty over the English Church bequeathed to her by
Henry VIII (a legal status with profound spiritual implications).
Nerissa's opening comment about those being happiest being seated in the
mean is a reference to the middle way characterizing Elizabeth's
approach to reformation.  Last week I discovered two of Spenser's
characters named Lerissa and Merissa (or something like that) from the
Fairy Queen (or somewhere. I'm sorry, I just don't have the time. If you
email me I'll look up the exact refs.  Maybe someone else can furnish
the info).  While this doesn't say anything about problems of
Elizabethan theology, it confirms, for me at least, that middleness is a
significant element of Nerissa's function.  Given its consistency with
the unity of the themes I have defined, I consider the Spenserian source
of Nerissa's name more good evidence.

As to Portia's racism, I think it goes far beyond the slur on Morocco's
tone, hue, cast, golden complexion.  Portia trots out all the latest
Elizabethan bigotry in describing all of her suitors.  While she seems
to save the worst for the Englishman, his only fault is that he imitates
all the others.  In other words, he has no national character of his own
which is a kind of a backhanded compliment: i.e. all his faults are
imitations of the faults of others.  Portia exemplifies a kind of rabid
nationalism that for the Elizabethan English was perfectly politically
correct.  Her description of the characterless English suitor expresses
the anxiety that created this nationalism, and it was this nationalism
that induced common Englishmen to support the monarchy in its
excommunication from the Roman Church.

As to the location of Belmont.  Wouldn't it be natural for a London
audience to recognize the contrast between  town and country in Venice
and Belmont?  In part, Belmont's air of superiority over Venice reflects
the valorization of the wealth of the old landed aristocracy over new
bourgeois capitalism.  I see Bassanio and company as modeled on middle
class courtiers like Sidney, etc., seeking more or less successfully
after favorite status, in which case Belmont primarily figures the royal
court in London, but the life of a royal favorite would be divided more
or less equally between town and country.  I see Belmont as the life of
leisure of a royal favorite, whether at Penshurst or Essex House.

As to Portia's clues, until we can get into a wayback machine and hear
the original company sing the song, the question seems to me to be
ultimately subject to opinion.  Both readings are supported by the text,
therefore both must remain equally authoritative.  I certainly disagree
that giving Bassanio clues would contradict the nature of Portia's
character.  As others have pointed out, she practices a great deal of
deception (though all of it ostensibly benign (unless you're Shylock)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, her clues reflect Reformation
theological issues involving the relative efficacy of works and grace in
achieving salvation.  You may have heard that the Pope has just declared
salvation attainable through grace alone.  I don't know if the Catholics
of the world are aware yet that they are now Protestants.  Perhaps this
will end the insanity in Ireland.  Be that as it may, many Elizabethan
Calvinists would have liked an Anglicanism which acknowledged the
efficacy of grace alone.  The constructing of an English religion,
however, involved work: like the caskets trial, the work of choosing
among guiding principles.  Bassanio's success reflects therefore the
Elizabethan middle way in that his works earned him salvation but not
without the grace of Portia's election.

If Portia's clues help Bassanio, moreover, she has broken the spirit but
not the letter of the law (her father's will).  This contrast between
letter and spirit of law, also figured in the lead casket, the flesh
bond, and the ring bond, as well as Launcelot's dilemma, Jessica's
filial disloyalty, Jacob and Laban, etc. was one of the defining
theological issues of the English Reformation and the reason I feel
confident that that historical movement is the real subject of the
Merchant of Venice.

Clifford Stetner
CUNY
www.columbia.edu/~fs10/cds.htm

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Judith Craig <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 14 Jun 1999 13:43:03 -0500
Subject: Re: Chooseth
Comment:        SHK 10.0993 Re: Chooseth

Mike Jensen writes:

>I think there is a
>difference between telling a lie as a plot device and making a
>commitment.  I should have stuck with the idea of commitment.  I don't
>see the two as a problem for her.  She keeps her commitments and expects
>others to keep theirs.  If there is a failure to do so, there is
>forgiveness, but the commitment is taken seriously.  Unless I'm wrong.

I don't think you are wrong, Mike.  Portia doesn't "lie" in the sense of
breaking a commitment or swearing falsely:  she simply gives the
impression that she and Nerissa will "see our husbands/Before they think
of us" (3.4.58-59) "in such a habit,/That they shall think we are
accomplished/With that we lack" (3.4.61-63).  As all readers of Love's
Labours Lost know, life in the academy or in school is equated with
monkish behavior by Berowne, and Portia's subsequent lawyer's habits
(dress as well as actions) don't betray the rank sensuality that
Bassanio's past reveals.

Judy Craig

Re: Pasties

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1002  Tuesday, 15 June 1999.

[1]     From:   Tom Dale Keever <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Monday, 14 Jun 1999 00:30:31 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: Pasties

[2]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Monday, 14 Jun 1999 10:12:45 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0996 Re: Pasties

[3]     From:   Andy White <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Monday, 14 Jun 1999 10:37:45 -0400
        Subj:   Pasties, anyone?

[4]     From:   Kristine F. Batey <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Monday, 14 Jun 1999 13:14:54 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0996 Re: Pasties

[5]     From:   David Evett <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Monday, 14 Jun 1999 16:49:17 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0996 Re: Pasties

[6]     From:   C. David Frankel <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Monday, 14 Jun 1999 20:12:48 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 10.0996 Re: Pasties


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Dale Keever <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 14 Jun 1999 00:30:31 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Re: Pasties

Dave Kathman's distinction between British "pasty" pronounced to rhyme
with "nasty," and American "pasty," which rhymes with "tasty," is
correct, but he errs when he says:

> The British "pasties" are completely unknown in the U.S.,
>where the term refers to a small patch worn over a woman's
>(usually a stripper's) nipples,

Surely during his time in Michigan he must have encountered the British,
or more precisely Cornish, meat pies.  They are very common in the Upper
Peninsula where they were introduced by Cornwall men who came over to
work in the copper mines and found them the ideal packed lunch to take
down in the pit.  I saw "Pasty stands" as far south as Grand Rapids
while I was in school at MSU.

Tom Dale Keever

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 14 Jun 1999 10:12:45 -0400
Subject: 10.0996 Re: Pasties
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0996 Re: Pasties

>Ah, transatlantic language differences strike again.  The British
>"pasties" are completely unknown in the U.S. . . .

writes Dave Kathman.

And, actually, this is untrue.  Where I grew up in eastern Pennsylvania,
pasties were and are still eaten daily.  There are pasty shops, and the
locals argue over who makes the best ones.  And I hear tell that they
also make them in upper Michigan.

Yours, Bill Godshalk

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andy White <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 14 Jun 1999 10:37:45 -0400
Subject:        Pasties, anyone?

In the UK, the pies in question are pronounced "pah-stees", whereas the
preferred piece of stripper gear in the US is pronounced "pay-stees."  A
recipe show on Public Radio began once with a brief, giggle-laden
discussion of the differences in pronunciation and meaning ...

They are, indeed, different.  But has anyone told you about the donut
shop in Broward County, Florida that features topless waitresses?  A
sure sign, if any, that Floridians are utterly hypocritical when it
comes to their morals ...

Andy White
Nowhere near Florida, thank goodness.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kristine F. Batey <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 14 Jun 1999 13:14:54 -0500
Subject: 10.0996 Re: Pasties
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0996 Re: Pasties

Matthew Steggle wrote:
>
>>"The dancers have been forced to wear at least a G-string and pasties."
>>
>>Can this be right?
>>
>>To Brits, "pasties" are a sort of crusty version of a meat pie. Clearly
>>it means something different in Florida.
>>

and Dave Kathman replied:
>Ah, transatlantic language differences strike again.  The British
>"pasties" are completely unknown in the U.S., where the term refers to a
>small patch worn over a woman's (usually a stripper's) nipples . . .

Actually, the British pasties can be found in the U.S. Great Lakes
region in several Wisconsin and Michigan communities that were heavily
settled by Cornish immigrants. The foodstuff "pasty" is pronounced with
the same short "a" as is in the word "past" (or sometimes with the "ah"
sound made by the "o" in "hot", whereas the nipple coverings are
pronounced with the long "a" of "paste" (because they're pasted on). The
pie-type pasties are a favorite item at Renaissance fairs, where the use
of the long "a" and any attendant snickering are considered to be
declass


Touring Shakespeare Ready To Visit You

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1000  Sunday, 13 June 1999.

From:           Ronald Benoit <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 11 Jun 1999 16:42:53 -0400
Subject:        Touring Shakespeare Ready To Visit You

We have the costumes and the actors and the set to perform "The Complete
Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)".  All we need is a place to
play.

UNDERDOG Productions is looking to fill its' 1999 fall schedule of
Colleges and Small Theatres in the New England area.  Our production of
"T.C.W.o.W.S.(a)" has been touring successfully for over a year now and
we are ready to take our show to you.  For those of you unfamiliar with
the show, we take 37 Shakespeare Plays (and 144 Sonnets) and roll them
all into one "Riotously Funny" laugh-fest.  And of course, we do this
all with just-three-actors.  From R+J to Hamlet, from Troilus and
Cressida to King John, we cover them all.

Currently, we are booked on Sept 24, 25 and Oct 1st and 2nd and are
looking to fill our schedule for the rest of the year.  Please contact
me directly for information ($-we work cheap!) on how to get us to your
College or Theatre Group.

Ron Benoit

Swearing and Oaths

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1001  Sunday, 13 June 1999.

From:           Judith Craig <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Sat, 12 Jun 1999 23:37:39 -0500
Subject:        Swearing and Oaths

Dana Wilson writes:

>In H6.1,V,v, Suffolk gives H6 some advice for breaking oaths.  He says
>that one may flee the oath as one who before the lists finds the
>proportions ill-omened.
>
>This is very curious to me because in RII,II,ii, it is said that no one
>would dare to alter the lists except those so charged.  The use of the
>term list is very important in that scene.

Dana's comment is interesting in light of Deuteronomy 19:  21-23:  "When
you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not be slack to pay it;
for the Lord your God will surely requite it of you . . . . But if you
refrain from vowing, it shall be no sin in you.  You shall be careful to
perform what has passed your lips, for you have voluntarily vowed to the
Lord your God what you have promised with your mouth."

It seems that Shakespeare took oaths very seriously, perhaps echoing
Jesus' warning in Matthew 5:33-37 that swearing can be very dangerous
because you are obligated to perform it ("You shall perform to the Lord
what you have sworn" v. 33) and that it is better not to swear at all.

Judy Craig

DC Merchant, et al.

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0999  Sunday, 13 June 1999.

From:           Jimmy Jung <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 11 Jun 1999 09:55:32 -0400
Subject:        Mostly Merchant in DC, some Merry Wives and some Jett Li

Hal Holbrook is playing Shylock in the DC production of Merchant at the
Shakespeare Theater, and the humanity he brings to the role is worth the
ticket.  The clear instigation that brings this old Jewish money lender
to demand the fatal forfeiture of his bond is laid out before the
audience, leaving us unsure if Portia's eventual triumph is in fact the
happy ending it seems, or the last of the cruel Christian persecutions.
This results from an extensively through and balanced production of the
play; and by "through" I mean that the company fully explores the text;
not overemphasizing and not neglecting any of it's themes and
suggestions.

The clearest example of this exploration, is in Antonio's affection for
Bassanio.  Bassanio is played by Hank Stratton, with a frat-boy
freshness, but Keith Baxter gives Antonio's affection for him a severity
that lives up to their description as "bosom lover's."  As Portia is
told , "how dear a lover of Antonio," her new husband is, her head snaps
to one side in confusion.  In fact, Portia's confusion and possible
irritation with the described warmth of Antonio and Bassanio's affection
seemed so obvious to me that I was willing to believe that she disguises
herself as a boy, in part, to connect with his homoerotic affection.
During a post-show discussion, the cast alluded regularly to the "source
of Antonio's depression;" (but Enid Graham, who plays Portia denied my
interpretation of Portia's disguise.)  When I say the production is
"balanced," I mean to say that these elements are touched on with such a
subtlety that the homoerotic qualities that seemed more than clear to me
eluded other members of the audience (at least two folks who saw the
same show where bewildered by discussions of topic and said they noticed
nothing of the sort).

It is in just this manner that the production also explores the question
of race.  Launcelot Gobbo, several of the maids and attendants and of
course the Prince of Morocco are played by black actors, who, all to
often must stand quietly by as "Christians," like Portia, dismiss all
people of the devil's complexion.  The Shakespeare Theater's ensemble
should be commended for portraying their pain so effectively without the
benefit of lines.  When Shylock points to two black attendants and
compares his ownership of Antonio's flesh to slavery, we can't help but
see the justice of his argument.

     "You have among you many a purchased slave,
     Which, like your asses and your dogs and mules,
     You use in abject and in slavish parts,
     Because you bought them."

This production also casts Jessica and Lorenzo relationship as unusually
troubled.  This list has often discussed the potentially mercantile
nature of Bassanio's suit, but in this production Bassanio tends more
towards the romantic, Lorenzo towards the greedy.  Their elopement
starts with love but as Jessica hands down the casket of ducats, Lorenzo
rapidly begins to focus on his new financial leverage.  The troubled
nature of their relationship is not unsupported in the text, as much of
Lorenzo and Jessica's conversation in Belmont seems open to an
argumentative reading.  In the final scene as Lorenzo receives Shylock's
deed, his mind is entirely on the money and he abandons his new wife on
the stage.  As the curtain falls, Antonio and Jessica are left alone on
the stage, wondering what they have received, having chosen to hazard
all they have.

I don't think these types of choices could be carried off without an
excellent cast.  In particular; Baxter, Stratton, Graham and Andrew
Long, as Antonio, Bassanio, Portia and Gratiano do an amazing job of
playing Christians we care about (but maybe wonder if we should).
While, of course, Hal Holbrook, is a stunning villain, that maybe we
shouldn't hate as much as we think we do.  The ensemble is also used to
portray a complete Jewish community, making this more of a conflict
between races that just Shylock by himself.  In the trail scene, this
results in a disturbingly loud, rumble-style confrontation between these
communities.  Both a Yiddish prayer (and I think a Catholic prayer) have
been inserted, and I'm told if you know Yiddish, it is quite a moving
addition.  The Prince of Morocco and the Prince of Arragon are both
played for huge laughs.  (I suspect that in the near future, the Prince
of Arragon will be compared to Austin Power's nemesis, Doctor Evil and
his new side kick Mini-me).  And for those of you in the "chooseth"
discussion, Portia rigs the casket game with the song.

Two questions.  One, is it unusual to stage Jessica and Lorenzo as
troubled?  And two, what are we to make of the reference to Portia's
unseen suitor "Falconbridge, the young baron of England?"  We just saw
King John, here in DC and I was wondering about the relationship between
the bastard Falconbridge, and this peculiar reference.

The production has funny moments and romantic moments, but I would be
hard pressed to describe it as comic, or romantic.  Instead, it was a
through, thought-out exploration of this complex play and well worth
seeing.

In the same week, The Shakespeare Theater also opened their "Free for
all" production at Carter Barron.  It is a restaging of their 1950's
Jackie Gleason style production of Merry Wives, from last year.  Set in
a mountain resort (think "Dirty Dancing"), Falstaff is a lounge singer
and Mistress Anne Page does a few grinds that would make Patrick Swayze
sweat.  As is their habit, I believe they have broadened some of the
humor to meet the requirements of this large outdoor venue.  It's very
funny (and of course the price can't be beat.)

Lastly, for those of you interested in "Romeo must Die," Jet Li's
version of Romeo and Juliet,  one of the unofficial Jett Li fan sites
offers some clips:

 http://www.netasia.net/users/sgc_wdi/romeo.html

I heard a rumor that Jet Li might play a young Boba Fett in a future
Star Wars prequel.  Perhaps it is this unusual series of connections
that has me fantasizing about how Henry V would look if it was staged
with light sabers and storm troopers.  After all, George Lucas has
always had an amazing vision, what he's really needed is a some good
dialog.  Imagine Falstaff as played by Jaba the Hutt.

Enough,
Jimmy Jung

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