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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: April ::
Re: Tragic Hero
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0790  Monday, 9 April 2001

[1]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Thursday, 05 Apr 2001 13:23:02 -0400
        Subj:   Re: Tragic Hero

[2]     From:   Sarah Herbert <
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        Date:   Friday, 6 Apr 2001 06:38:26 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Tragic Hero

[3]     From:   Brian Haylett <
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        Date:   Friday, 06 Apr 2001 16:06:49 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0775 Re: Tragic Hero

[4]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Sunday, 8 Apr 2001 14:40:54 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0775 Re: Tragic Hero


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Thursday, 05 Apr 2001 13:23:02 -0400
Subject:        Re: Tragic Hero

I endorse almost every word in Don Bloom's latest post on this subject.
I have long held identical views but have not had either the occasion or
skill to express them as cogently as he did.

There are only two points about which I quibble:

(1) An author would write an essay rather than a play if he had a clear
point to make.  I think too many modern authors write fiction to make
political points because fiction has a wider audience and feeds the
medicine in a spoonful of sugar.

(2) To understand an author's intention, work backward from the last
scene.   Many playwrights, Shakespeare among them, have trouble with
endings.  They write a play that develops an engrossing premise even if
they do not have the ending clearly in mind when they start.
Frequently, this is no problem because the ending is inevitable.  Good
examples of this in the Canon are TG/V and M/M.  The endings stink, but
what else could they be.  The impression they leave me with is that WS
has come to the end so he has to tie it all up as quickly as possible.
The fascinating issues presented by M/M, for example, are not prefigured
by its conventional ending.  M/V partakes of some of this fault,
especially the sudden and inexplicable restoration of Antonio's wealth,
but for the most part I agree with Don that WS set out to reach a goal
on the far side of an obstacle course and, when all the obstacles had
been overcome, the play ended.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           S Herbert <
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Date:           Friday, 6 Apr 2001 06:38:26 -0700 (PDT)
Subject:        Tragic Hero


Hello -- I've been lurking on this list for a few months now, and have
been enjoying the discussion.

Larry Weiss points out that:

 "If, as seemed likely, Antonio paid the debt promptly,

Shylock would have lost nothing except three months' interest on 3000
ducats and he would have earned good will probably worth a lot more than
that.  If, on the other hand, Antonio defaulted, Shylock believed he
would have been able to remove an expensive competitor.  Good deal
either way; but "complete good faith"? -- Nah."

or maybe it's a subtle insult? Antonio claims not to believe in usury,
but he's certainly heaping the guilt onto Bassanio with his "I'm willing
to deal with the devil for you and you should appreciate it" routine.
In a way, Shylock is offering Antonio the same deal that Antonio is
offering Bassanio.  Shylock might have half-expected or hoped that at
some point Antonio would see the insult and be shamed.  But Shylock
underestimated the extent to which Antonio and Bassanio are interested
in nothing but Bassanio.

-- sarah herbert

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Haylett <
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Date:           Friday, 06 Apr 2001 16:06:49 +0100
Subject: 12.0775 Re: Tragic Hero
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0775 Re: Tragic Hero

Having wavered in my views of The Merchant over the years, may I very
tentatively suggest that the Shylock -Lorenzo argument might pay more
attention to their language.

Shylock seems to speak in materialistic terms. This argument is always
countered by reference to  the 'Hath not a Jew...' speech, but even that
speech amounts to a concern with the material body and with
behaviourism: 'If you prick us, do we not bleed?' - stimulus, response.
However appealing the argument may be to our own humanity, it is
designed to lead to Revenge.  Lorenzo's language, on the other hand, is
more spiritual and concerned with love for its own sake. Yes, there is
some theft involved, But are not Shakespeare's lovers often allowed a
sort of fools' license? And is it not only in a materialistic world that
the theft matters?

When we compare this theme with the main story, we find Antonio pledging
his pound of flesh, and fighting rather half-heartedly for it, while
Shylock is in the picture - a material preoccupation with the body. But
after Lorenzo and Jessica have performed their spiritual passage in Act
V, Antonio pledges his soul. As I have said on an earlier occasion, I
think this pledge of the soul is far too often ignored, presumably
because it is taken as a mere figure of speech.

Brian Haylett

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Sunday, 8 Apr 2001 14:40:54 -0400
Subject: 12.0775 Re: Tragic Hero
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0775 Re: Tragic Hero

I don't think MoV is exactly about anti-semitism. As I read it,
Shakespeare was not quite writing about Jews. He invented this Jew out
of old stereotypes which arose partly from the money-lending function
assigned to Jews in medieval Europe. His imagination brought Shylock to
such vivid life, with some Jewish trappings--like the story of Laban,
the dietary restrictions, dress, mentions of "our sacred nation"--that
our knowledge of real Jews gets connected to Shylock and we tend to
ignore the gap.

In MoV, Shylock's Jewishness is defined as a combination of bad
qualities, including usury and miserliness, which stand for a general
unkindness, and the substitution of materialism for humanity. Above all,
he is revengeful. So are Christians, as Shylock says, but his
revengefulness comes with a difference.  He has no religion, no God,
telling him that revengefulness is a sin. He can have "an oath in
heaven" (odd oath for a Jew) to get his pound of flesh. His idea of
heaven does not include the value of mercy, or as the Christians would
supposedly say, Christian mercy. "Then must the Jew be merciful," says
Portia, and Shylock answers, "On what compulsion must I?" To see someone
not only bent on revenge, as a Christian might be, but without any sense
that God opposes revenge, no moral restraint on revenge--however ignored
or transgressed--is terrifying. "Cursed be my tribe," says Shylock, "If
I forgive him."

Shylock is not so much a real Jew as, in this Venice, the essence of
unChristianity. He reminds the audience of supposed Christians of their
own propensity to take revenge. You teach me revenge and I'll better the
instruction. This is a human, all-too-human response, which
Christianity, we 're supposed to know, attempts to restrain. I believe
Shakespeare is looking out through this play at his unkind,
materialistic, revengeful, "Christian" audience, and saying to them: the
Jew is YOU.

Jewishness in this play is not, at least from a Christian point of view,
racial. It is a choice. Jessica can become a Christian, and so, under
compulsion, can Shylock. The old Christian problem--why won't those Jews
convert?--is not faced but finessed. For us the idea that Shylock is so
terribly punished is anachronistic. For Shakespeare and his audience
conversion was no terrible thing, but soul-saving. Aside from the
conversion, what happens to Shylock? He could legally be impoverished
and killed; instead he gets to keep half his wealth and lend out the
other half, on condition that at his death it goes, as we're supposed to
feel it should, to his only child. The conversion of Shylock seems to me
the symbolic, "festive", expulsion of Jewishness--as the play has
defined it--from Venice.  The Jews are not expelled. They are punished,
in the person of Shylock, by being forced to join the Christian
community. The audience can't leave the theater still having Shylock to
kick around, and blame. He's made a Christian; now they have to look to
themselves.

Best wishes,
David Bishop
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