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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: April ::
Re: Tragic Hero
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0807  Tuesday, 10 April 2001

[1]     From:   Graham Bradshaw <
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        Date:   Monday, 9 Apr 2001 23:06:57 +0900
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0790 Re: Tragic Hero

[2]     From:   Mary Jane Miller <
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        Date:   Monday, 9 Apr 2001 11:45:16 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0691 Re: Tragic Hero

[3]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Monday, 09 Apr 2001 12:25:51 -0400
        Subj:   Tragic Hero

[4]     From:   Geralyn Horton <
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        Date:   Monday, 09 Apr 2001 15:39:47 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0790 Re: Tragic Hero

[5]     From:   Clifford Stetner <
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        Date:   Monday, 9 Apr 2001 16:05:57 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0775 Re: Tragic Hero


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Bradshaw <
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Date:           Monday, 9 Apr 2001 23:06:57 +0900
Subject: 12.0790 Re: Tragic Hero
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0790 Re: Tragic Hero

Not for the first time, the fiercely Shylock-centred nature of this
discussion makes me wonder what people think the rest of the play is
doing.  The story of the bond comes from one source, pretty intact
though changed.  Why did Shakespeare want to add the caskets, Portia's
alien suitors, and the ring imbroglio? Why keep moving between Venice
and Belmont. If he thought these additions added something, the
discussion so far suggests he was wrong.

Since another discussion about authorial intention is going on, I had
better add that my question hasn't to do with Shakespeare's prior
intentions, it's a question about what we make of the intelligence at
work within the work.

Best wishes,
Graham Bradshaw

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mary Jane Miller <
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Date:           Monday, 9 Apr 2001 11:45:16 -0400
Subject: 12.0691 Re: Tragic Hero
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0691 Re: Tragic Hero

I hardly ever use the word 'Hero'. The word "protagonist" covers Macbeth
and other characters better than the old and awkward 'anti-hero'.

Antigone has two protagonists, one Antigone who faces an antagonist -
Creon, who , after she leaves the orchestra for the last time becomes a
protagonist as his world collapses. The formula of one hero /protagonist
per play doesn't work in plays as diverse as The Trojan Women and the
second part of the Oresteia.

Mary Jane

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Monday, 09 Apr 2001 12:25:51 -0400
Subject:        Tragic Hero

In reference to David Bishop's recent post:

1. Historically, the essence of the "unchristian" was felt to be the
Jew.

2. I think that MV is about "otherness": if you are different, the game
is rigged from the start, and you can't win for losing.

--Ed Taft

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Geralyn Horton <
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Date:           Monday, 09 Apr 2001 15:39:47 -0400
Subject: 12.0790 Re: Tragic Hero
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0790 Re: Tragic Hero

Brian Haylett <
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>
> Shylock seems to speak in materialistic terms. Lorenzo's language, on the other hand, is
> more spiritual and concerned with love for its own sake.

I agree, and believe that in performance the only way a production can
prevent the audience from trusting Lorenzo and siding with the lovers is
to cast a bad verse-speaker.

Geralyn Horton
Newton, Mass. 02460
<http://www.stagepage.org>

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Monday, 9 Apr 2001 16:05:57 -0400
Subject: 12.0775 Re: Tragic Hero
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0775 Re: Tragic Hero

Larry Weiss:

> That it is a devastating blow is made clear by Shylock's reaction; but
> it is far from likely that the jewel box contained "a great portion of
> Shylock's wealth."  What evidence is there for that?

This is true, but I take the act: elopement and theft to be both a
narrative episode and a metaphor for the nature of anti-Semitic
persecution.  What Marlowe describes in historical terms as the
confiscation of Jewish money by the Maltese state is metaphorized in
confiscation of a single Jew's single box of jewels by a single
Christian.

> Isn't Shylock
> likely to have had the bulk of his wealth in receivables, just as most
> of Antonio's wealth was in merchandise at sea?  Is Shylock the sort of
> character to bear even a small loss with "sufferance"?

Yes, but if the number of repetitions of ducats vs daughter may stand as
evidence of where Shylock places value, should not his emphasis on
Leah's ring as the only thing whose loss hurts him count similarly.
Unlike the Christian husbands, he is not able to part with the symbol of
his marital covenant painlessly.  If he were the unprincipled capitalist
unable to bear even a small loss, he should be willing to trade the ring
for the monkeys.  While the Christians claim the noble motive of
gratitude, their rings are relinquished as no more than a contracted
lawyer's fee.

> Shylock made very clear long before the elopement that he harbored
> deadly malice toward Antonio, both because he is a Christian and, even
> more, because he made interest-free loans which impacted adversely on
> the rates Shylock and his confreres could charge:  Not the hallmark of
> complete good faith.

Also true.  However, we should be careful to distinguish the function of
particular parts of the text in setting up a problem.  If Shylock were
unambiguously noble, more like Tubal, we would have no problem, just a
simple discourse of anti anti-Semitism.  What MOV does is first to
seduce us into a collective embrace of our anti-Semitic prejudices,
using the medieval Vice convention of asides to the audience regarding
hatred of Christians for their Christianity, but even this Vice like
sentiment is complicated by the simple question of conflicting
capitalist interests.  The first reflects the idea of the Jew as
prisoner of Christian babies; the second reflects a more materialist
interpretation of historical racial conflict. And furthermore, is there
any evidence that Antonio's Christian charity extends beyond the stable
of young dissolute aristocrats that pay him court?

> But, actually, Shylock did intend to honor the
> bond -- it is Antonio who evaded it.  At worst, Shylock misrepresented
> his intention not to enforce the bond.

As  Shylock tells us in another aside, while Antonio and Bassanio are
disputing entering the bond, that he hopes to catch Antonio on the hip
and feed his ancient grudge fat on him one day, this misrepresentation
is clearly implied, although not explicitly stated.  The misfortunes of
Antonio's ventures, however, come as a surprise to everyone, and it is
only in the aftermath of his robbery, aided and abetted by Antonio,
that Shylock begins to take pleasure in them.

> > Why is malicious vengefulness evil in Shylock and not in Hamlet?
>
> Perhaps because it is self-interested.  Perhaps because it is
> disproportionate to the offense.

Perhaps self-interest is an ignoble motive, although not in Venice, the
cradle of European capitalism.  And is the death of Rosenkrantz and
Guildenstern not disproportionate to their offence (given no reason to
assume they were aware of the contents of the sealed letter)?  In the
long tradition of vendetta in Italy, many have been killed for lesser
crimes than robbery and elopement.  It is Shylock's attempt to use the
law as an instrument of vendetta that gets him into trouble.  This
reliance on the law is symbolic of Jewish reliance on Mosaic law that
Christianity opposed as sufficient for salvation, a position that the
Reformation extended to Roman claims of hegemony.  The principle stated
by Portia/Bellario: "as justice is thy suit, justice shalt thou have,"
also figured in the silver casket: "he who chooses me, shall have all
that he deserves," not only figures the original Christian claim to the
new covenant, but also the Protestant claim regarding the insufficiency
of good works to earn salvation.

> > Is Shylock greedier than Lorenzo? Antonio? Bassanio?
>
> Maybe not; but that is an entirely different question from whether
> Shylock's conduct is justifiable.  There may be a thief or two among the
> sworn twelve, but that does not mitigate the accused's crime.

Also true, but it does not serve to define the one as good and the other
as evil.  To claim that Shylock's greed makes him a contemptible
villain, while Lorenzo's merits retirement to a country estate is
further testimony to Shakespeare's skill in mobilizing the literary
conventions of demonization and heroification of characters regardless
of the facts of the case.

> From:           Don Bloom <
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> In general, an author's intentions are usually emotive rather than
> intellectual, and thus they resist easy statements in declarative
> prose.  The reasons are (to me) obvious: if they could have been set
> down in a few declarative sentences, they would have been written that
> way, rather than as a sonnet, a novel, a tragedy or whatever.

The two qualifications: "in general" and "usually" at least leave room
for particular cases of intellectual or ideological intentions.
Furthermore, there are many reasons that an author would resort to
literature rather than exposition to engage in ideological discourse.
Sidney, the demigod of Elizabethan literary culture, reiterated a long
tradition of defenses of poesy in arguing that emotive language was a
more effective vehicle for ideas than prose.  Moreover, the pursuit of
aristocratic patronage determined the nature of literary labors (I would
argue) to a far greater extent than the desire of authors for self
expression.

> you can look at the very last scene and consider
> what the author is trying to do with the audience through it. You must
> use as much good judgment, objectivity and humility as you can muster,
> but the process can and has been done successfully by hundreds or
> thousands of scholars throughout the years.

Success here begs the question, as there can be no empirical
confirmation regarding a dead author's intentions.

> Now it seems pretty obvious to me that the ending to Merchant is happy
> -- that is, it is meant produce feelings of pleasure and fulfillment in
> the audience. Portia and Bassanio, Nerissa and Gratiano, are joyfully
> united; Antonio is saved not only from a cruel death but from poverty
> (through notice being brought of the safe return of three argosies
> thought lost); the villain is defeated and punished. What is there to
> mitigate the unrestrained happiness that such a conclusion brings?

> Various details are variously offered, but they all seem to come down to
> sympathy for the villain, Shylock.

The list offered by William Godshalk seems pretty complete.

> Yet why should we sympathize with a
> man that we have just observed trying to have another man legally
> murdered out of malicious spite? Two reasons spring immediately to mind:
> the shadow of Auschwitz and all the long, bitter history of bigotry and
> injustice that led up to it; and the fact that Shakespeare gives some
> sympathetic lines to Shylock.
>
> Of the first, little needs to be said. I have been accused of naivet

 

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