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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: April ::
Re: Tragic Hero
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0897  Sunday, 22 April 2001

[1]     From:   Judith M. Craig <
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        Date:   Friday, 20 Apr 2001 00:37:47 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0874 Re: Tragic Hero

[2]     From:   Stevie Gamble <
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        Date:   Saturday, 21 Apr 2001 17:52:26 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0841 Re: Tragic Hero


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Judith M. Craig <
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Date:           Friday, 20 Apr 2001 00:37:47 -0400
Subject: 12.0874 Re: Tragic Hero
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0874 Re: Tragic Hero

I just wanted to add that I rushed down to the local library to obtain
the only remaining copy of Shakespeare's "Complete Works" that has
survived stacks and stacks of movie rentals to supply the relevant
quotation from 1.1 about Bassanio that I was lacking in my last post.
It is also interesting in rereading Act 1 that Antonio seems to have
been hardened by his acquisition of money fueled by his sexual
ventures:  "My ventures are not in one bottom trusted" (1.1.47) and when
asked by Solanio if he is "in love," he retorts, "Fie, fie!" (1.1.46).
He seems bored by the whole process of becoming a powerful "player"
using sex, most likely I believe with women, but maybe not exclusively
so, to keep his juices going to make a large fortune.

At any rate, Bassanio seems embarked upon a similar journey (perhaps
explaining their mysterious "love" for each other):

        'Tis not unknown to you, Antonio,
        How much I have disabled mine estate
        By something showing a more swelling port
        Than my faint means would grant continuance;
        Not do I now make moan to be abridg'd
        From such a noble rate; but my chief care
        Is to come fairly off from the great debts
        Wherein my time, something too prodigal,
        Hath left me gag'd.  To you, Antonio,
        I owe the most, in money and in love;
                                        (1.1.122-131)

In other words, like the prodigal son, Bassanio has dissipated his
estate with harlots (getting women pregnant as the "swelling port" (line
123) connotes.  Moreover, he seems to have used Antonio's lifestyle as
his model: "To you, Antonio,/I owe the most, in money and in love" (line
131).  Note the order of affection implied in line 131--money and then
love.

I feel that, based on this reading, Portia's life with Bassanio will be
frustrating at best-- she begins her marriage with a trick necessary to
retrieve her wedding ring!  His affection is so shallow that he admits
his motives right at the beginning of the play.

I think that Shakespeare is trying to tell us about the fantasy world
Portia lives in--her courtship scene is dominated by her father's will
and her picture is enclosed in caskets.  Protected by her father's money
(or enchained by it), she cannot find her own lover on her own.  The
incredible trick of turning a protected, green, society girl into a
lawyer overnight who can solve one of the major legal problems of
Venetian society may be Shakespeare's way of telling the audience what
kind of life that girl is destined for  and what she needs to do to get
out of it.  She needs to become a player in the real world and see the
real truth behind her fantasy-dominated upbringing.

Perhaps in Portia's time, only some sort of deluded marriage was
possible, but in our time, Portia's can and should become lawyers to
help men to get at the truth of cruelty perpetrated in society by their
fathers.

Thanks for the article, Frank.

Judy Craig

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stevie Gamble <
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Date:           Saturday, 21 Apr 2001 17:52:26 EDT
Subject: 12.0841 Re: Tragic Hero
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0841 Re: Tragic Hero

Stephanie Hughes wrote,

>In considering Shakespeare's attitude towards Shylock and his purposes
>in dramatizing him as he did, it might be well to consider that the
>Protestant reformers regarded themselves to a great extent as the
>inheritors of the legacy of the original Jews of the Old Testament, a
>return to basics after the excesses of Rome. This was the beginning of
>what would become a sense of connection with the Old Testament Jews
>themselves, obdurate, chosen, beleaguered, not at all against lending
>money at interest, family centered, fond of wearing black, etc., that
>has lasted to the present day.

The notion that the Protestant reformers were not at all against lending
money at interest is one of those notions which seems to have got itself
tied into a particular view of history as progress, the triumph of
rationality over superstition and the belief that economics is a science
which, like physics, can absolutely accurately predict future events.
None of those statements is true, of course. One of the great drivers of
the Reformation was the belief that the wealthy had subverted the usury
laws to the great detriment of the poor; the wealthy could pay the
lawyers to come up with different structures, driving if not a coach and
horses then at least a donkey cart through the intent of the usury laws,
whereas the poor who so often had to pay the interest suffered greatly.
As for the notion that the Jews of the Old Testament period were also in
favour of lending money at interest I have to confess bafflement. Usury
laws are not necessarily religious in origin - Hammurabi's were
determinedly secular-but those primarily affecting the European economy
in the sixteenth century were common to the Peoples of the Book, Jews,
Christians and Moslems.  The example cited by Shylock in Act 1 Scene III
of Jacob's creatively acquired lambs reflect that common origin. Of
course there were further subdivisions within Christianity itself,
Franciscans against Dominicans as well as the better known
post-Reformation conflicts, and differing schools of thought within
Jewish and Muslim authorities. Elizabethan England had moneylenders in
plenty, including John Shakespeare, some of them rapacious, but very few
of them Jews.  The central premise of the plot, the taking of interest
by the Jew contrasted with the Christian condemnation of usury, Shylock
who charges and Antonio who does not, was duplicitous from start to
finish, and known by nearly all concerned to be duplicitous. But the
play is about usury; usury was one of the intellectual preoccupations of
the age, and since some of the finest minds of the age revelled in its
beautiful complexities, spiced with the always fascinating
characteristic of 'serious' money, it was a subject which featured
largely in religious sermons, writings, and secular literature. It is
usually argued that, whilst virtually all human cultures that we know of
feature gambling in some shape or form, it was not until the sixteenth
century that Pascal put the art of losing money onto a scientific basis.
In the Merchant of Venice Shakespeare created a sustained meditation on
the nature of value and risk; concepts which had been at the heart of
economic and moral debate since at least the days of Aristotle and
probably earlier. They are still of vital importance; third world debt
is a classic usury problem,  bankers continue to lend very large sums of
money to people who have no hope of paying the interest, much less
repaying the principal, and questions of interest law continue to
preoccupy very rich lawyers and fairly poor Civil Servants.

Stephanie Hughes also wrote,

>I wonder if anyone attending this thread has read the 1936
>dissertation by Mark Edwin Andrews, "Law versus Equity in
>'The Merchant of Venice.'", published in 1965. He presents
>a strong case for the author's intention to influence the
>argument, which was gathering in intensity in the late
 >90s and early 1600s, over which court had precedence
> ver the other, Equity or Common Law.

Gabriel Egan has dealt with this comprehensively, so I will simply note
that Shakespeare was after much bigger game than some fairly footling
legal developments in a small island just off the coast of mainland
Europe...

Best Wishes,
Stevie Gamble

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