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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: January ::
Re: MV
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0005  Monday, 3 January 2000.

[1]     From:   Carl Fortunato <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 29 Dec 1999 10:21:56 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.2298 Re: MV

[2]     From:   Troy A. Swartz <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 29 Dec 1999 10:40:28 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.2298 Re: MV

[3]     From:   Manuela Rossini <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 29 Dec 1999 17:26:54 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.2298 Re: MV

[4]     From:   Geralyn Horton <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 29 Dec 1999 11:54:01 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.2298 Re: MV

[5]     From:   Dana Shilling <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 29 Dec 1999 16:32:35 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.2298 Re: MV

[6]     From:   Judith Matthews Craig <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 29 Dec 1999 16:26:32 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.2298 Re: MV

[7]     From:   C. David Frankel <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 29 Dec 1999 19:36:50 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 10.2298 Re: MV

[8]     From:   Judy Lewis <
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        Date:   Thursday, 30 Dec 1999 23:44:20 +1300
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.2298 Re: MV


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carl Fortunato <
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Date:           Wednesday, 29 Dec 1999 10:21:56 EST
Subject: 10.2298 Re: MV
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.2298 Re: MV

>Frog & Peach
>seemed to follow a strategy set out by Leslie Fiedler in his essay
>"These Be the Christian Husbands!" by pointing out what a horrible bunch
>the Venetian/Belmontian Christians are, with a memorably vile Gratiano.
>(I can't find the program so don't know the actor's name.)

I saw this, and I thought Gratiano was magnificently vile - the actors
really turned him into a totally despicable character.  He was
striking.  Austin Pendleton as Shylock was also very good. I thought the
guy who played Antonio, though, did a good job making Antonio a rather
heroic figure - I never saw the play from Antonio's perspective before,
and watching this production, I got the feeling that Antonio would be
flabbergasted that any sane person would think he was the villian ("This
guy was going to SKIN me!  You think I'M the bad guy?")  I don't always
care for Frog & Peach's productions, but I liked that one. Ted Klusycski
(spelling?) who runs the company, also did a GREAT comic as Portia's two
suitors.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Troy A. Swartz <
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Date:           Wednesday, 29 Dec 1999 10:40:28 -0500
Subject: 10.2298 Re: MV
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.2298 Re: MV

Hmm.  It seems as though we've taken a comedy and turned it into a
drama.  Hey, maybe the comedy of a Jew getting "what he deserves" during
Shakespeare's time was cool.  But not anymore.  Should we change the
nature of the play?

Also, why should we be so general as to say Christian?  These folks were
Catholic to the Shakespearean audience....To a Protestant (Anglican)
these Italian dudes were Catholic, of course...Christian?  That could be
pushing it!

I emailed Allan the day he wrote the message to the group....Because I'm
lazy, I will merely attach a copy of it.  It's my take....and I'm sure a
lot of you have heard it before....
------

Although I can't say that I'm an in-depth scholar, I can say that I did
my departmental honors paper on MV when I was an undergraduate.  Many
people tend to steer clear of the play because they see the comedy
deriving from the scapegoating of the Jew, Shylock.  But, if you are
open enough to consider the possibility of a potential love interest on
Antonio's part for Bassanio (beyond the accepted "glorified
friendship"), you can see where the comedy may take another route.  My
perspective was that the comedy derives from, yes, Shylock; however, it
also stems from the generalized "Sexual and Religious Other," as I call
it.  All the characters are religious others:
Catholic and Jewish.  By poking fun at both Catholicsm and Judaism, the
Protestant viewers have a "safety net," so to speak-Shakespeare isn't
commentating on their society, but the society of the "others."

You could work w/ the stereotyped Catholic lechery as well as the
stereotyped Jewish money-loving.  In the end, though, by maximizing the
relationship between Ant. and Bass., you may be able to divert the
extreme anti-semitism generally interpreted in the play.  Also, another
comedic aspect of the play is Portia's cross-dressing-something that
finds its way into almost every comedy!  In fact, by up-playing the
bawdy in this play you may be able to get away with a production that is
not the standard anti-semitic interpretation.  Unfortunately, if you do
do this, you are suggesting homoerotic themes-even homosexual
themes-which are not exactly well-received in some areas.

Much thanks,
tas

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Manuela Rossini <
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Date:           Wednesday, 29 Dec 1999 17:26:54 +0100
Subject: 10.2298 Re: MV
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.2298 Re: MV

Sean Lawrence muses:

"The real question isn't whether we can discuss MV, but whether we can
talk about anything other than its politics".

Can we talk about anything other than politics? That's the question.
Sorry, we have been here before, but I hope that Shakespe(a)rians don't
leave this question behind in the 20th century (along with perhaps
marxism and feminism??) but take it with them as an ethical (necessarily
related to the political) obligation for the new millennium.

With all best wishes for the New Year,
Manuela Rossini

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Geralyn Horton <
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Date:           Wednesday, 29 Dec 1999 11:54:01 -0500
Subject: 10.2298 Re: MV
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.2298 Re: MV

Is it true, as Bloom contends, that "the Holocaust made and makes MV
unplayable, at least in what appears to be its own terms"?

FWIW, I saw 4 excellent productions in a little over a year, season
before last.  The best of them was the one at the New Globe in London---
however, that production cannot have been universally approved, because
the trial scene was interrupted by a bomb threat.  We all filed out onto
the bank of the Thames, and returned in about 40 minutes to begin again
at the top of the act.  The trial was indeed a matter of life and death,
but all the jokes played as intended, too.  We left the theatre
exhilarated: we have faced this terrible thing, more or less dealt with
it, glimpsed its consequences; but escaped the worst, the whipping we
all deserve- rejoice!

Shakespeare & Company in Lenox MA mounted a beautiful (but IMHO
wrongheaded) production with Shylock as the tragic hero, the wonderful
Jonathan Epstein quite Lear-like in the role. With, yes, a truly vile
drunken brute of a Gratiano, and the union between Jessica and Lorenzo a
doomed misalliance.  (I maintain you can only get away with this if you
cast a croaking crow as Lorenzo.  Lorenzo has the best verse, and given
to a good actor his words will win the hearts in the audience as well as
Jessica's)

Next, Andre Serban tackled it at the ART, with Epstein brilliant as
Antonio in that one and critical kudos all around.

I think Bloom's opinion has been the reigning one, but once it has been
articulated as such, artists are challenged to defy it.  The production
I saw at Brandeis U about 4 years ago was identified in the program as
the first mounting of the play there since W.W.II.  There were shocked
gasps in the audience at the uncut text, but only a few walked out, and
the applause at the end was loud and long-relieved, I thought. A
veritable flood of "Merchants" followed this ice-breaker.

Geralyn Horton, Playwright
Newton, Mass. 02460
<http://www.tiac.net/users/ghorton>

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dana Shilling <
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Date:           Wednesday, 29 Dec 1999 16:32:35 -0500
Subject: 10.2298 Re: MV
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.2298 Re: MV

This is probably commonplace to professionals, but I'm an amateur, so...

1. MV is like All's Well and MForM in its exploration of
substitutions.MV is
really about "other people's money"-not only doesn't have Bassanio have
the money to go to Belmont, Antonio doesn't have it either, and even
Shylock doesn't have it-he has to borrow the money from Tubal. AW and
MFM are about "other people's bodies"-substitutions not only in the bed
trick, but in Ragozine's head for Claudio's.

2.On the manifest level, both MV and MFM involve a woman in an advocacy
role, preaching the value of mercy to someone who is not at all
impressed.  Later, that woman shows mercy to someone who represented a
real threat to her (Angelo to Isabella, Antonio to Portia-Shylock is not
only not a real threat to Portia, he sort of tried to solve her problem
for his own purposes).

3. Does either Portia or Antonio realize that "sweet lady, you have
given me life and living" echoes Shylock's "You do take my life when you
take my means to live"? It could be one of the earliest uses of the
horror-film trope of the clutching hand reaching out of the grave after
the menace is supposedly eliminated...

4. On the subtextual level, both MV and MFM deal with a character who is
able to avoid unwanted and culturally unacceptable sexual attentions
(Isabella and Bassanio), but at the price of a lifetime of culturally
acceptable (and perhaps unwanted) sexual attentions. All the difference
in the world from the theological perspective, but not necessarily an
improvement from the pragmatic one.

Dana (Shilling)

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Judith Matthews Craig <
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Date:           Wednesday, 29 Dec 1999 16:26:32 -0600
Subject: 10.2298 Re: MV
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.2298 Re: MV

Robert Peters writes:

<Shylock was a ruthless, soulless broker
<surrounded by other ruthless, soulless brokers. That he <was a Jew was
<rather unimportant. He was just a Jewish shark in a pool <with mainly
<Christian sharks, all his partners in crime.

I find this comment interesting in that MV points to the foibles of both
Christians and Jews; however, I think that the "Christian sharks" are
soulless not in the graspy, aggressive, greedy way as Shylock is, but
rather in the faceless, "negative capability" mode of vacant virtue
powerless to effect anything in the face of their sins as defined within
their belief system.  Antonio is sad, Bassanio compromised, and both
have to be "enabled" to achieve anything in the play:  Bassanio by
marrying an heiress and Antonio by trusting to "providence."  Women, as
personified by Portia are the only source of vigor and positive action
in the play-possibly because they have been "pent up" in a green world
created by fathers, whose laws are incomprehensible but respected.
Portia becomes interesting only after she becomes "virtuous" in the
Miltonic sense-going out into the world and working for it.

Judy Craig

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           C. David Frankel <
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Date:           Wednesday, 29 Dec 1999 19:36:50 -0500
Subject: 10.2298 Re: MV
Comment:        RE: SHK 10.2298 Re: MV

Why should Merchant be considered any more unplayable or unteachable
than Othello?

cdf

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Judy Lewis <
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Date:           Thursday, 30 Dec 1999 23:44:20 +1300
Subject: 10.2298 Re: MV
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.2298 Re: MV

The first time I saw MV on stage was in Wellington, New Zealand, about
25 years ago.  The play was set in the 1930s, in an Italy peopled by
brown-shirted knee-high booted Fascists - including Bassanio and
Antonio.  Portia was a slut who connived in the choice of the correct
casket.  Shylock was a victim of anti-Semitism, though the real victim
was Jessica who was married for Shylock's ducats only.

This interpretation changed the play from any semblance of a comedy into
near tragedy - but it was powerful and unforgettable.  No lines were
changed - it was all in the way they were said.  It is amazing how much
the meaning of a line can change when it is said with a sneer.

I have never forgotten it.

Judy Lewis
 

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