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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: March ::
Re: Tragic Hero
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0748  Friday, 30 March 2001

From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Wednesday, 28 Mar 2001 08:33:43 -0600
Subject: 12.0705 Re: Tragic Hero
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0705 Re: Tragic Hero

  Clifford Stetner writes:

>  The attrocity perpetrated by Lorenzo on Shylock . . . "

The noun puzzles me. Does he really consider Lorenzo's action an
atrocity?  Would he say the same about what Lysander does to Egeus in
MSND? If Jessica and Lorenzo are truly in love, and he marries her,
what's the atrocity?

Or was it the theft of the jewel box? We may take a fairly absolute
moral stance about stealing as a crime (or sin), but most of us have an
escape clause based on the immorality of the victim of the theft. In one
era, King John and Sheriff of Nottingham justify an array of crimes. In
another era, Hitler and the Nazis, or Stalin and the KGB, or -- well,
you name it.

My concern is with the danger of misunderstanding the play. Shakespeare
clearly intended Shylock to be a villain -- greedy, malicious, and
vengeful. In his time, nobody expected Jews to be anything else, so that
they deserved any punishments they received. To the author, what Lorenzo
does is part of the general comic mood of the play -- the lovers are
united against the wicked father's wishes, and the vicious miser gets
his comeuppance -- and is parallel to the main plot action which has the
same results worked out with more complexity.

If we -- living in a time a little more capable of seeing the cruelty
and injustice of all bigotry, and troubled by the shadows of the death
camps -- read back into the play things that Shakespeare never intended,
exaggerating the passages that make Shylock sympathetic to the point
where he becomes a figure a tragedy, we are left with a chaotic bit a
business that has lots of dramatic scenes and no coherent meaning. If we
leave it alone, and allow ourselves to accept the underlying bigotry,
then it all makes perfect sense.

In some cases, this may be too much to endure, and "Merchant" may be one
of them. But in those cases, it would probably be wise to leave them
alone.

(Personal anecdote: I remember years ago leafing through a National
Geographic article on the new Spain (post-Franco), and seeing a
quotation from a man who truly missed the "good old days" of Fascist
rule and spoke lyrically about how much better they were than the
current days of freedom.  The man was a retired army sergeant. I
remembered the type well from days long past when I couldn't -- unlike
now and for the past thirty years -- shun such people. I could easily
imagine the sort of person who would much prefer a country ruled like a
Marine company, for whom the values that I hold dear are irrelevant or
outright evil, and whose own values are often repugnant to me. But his
lyrical nostalgia for fascism synthesized for me this problem of
understanding other ways of thinking and evaluating what we see around
us.)

Regards,
Don

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