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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: April ::
Re: Tragic Hero
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0917  Tuesday, 24 April 2001

[1]     From:   Brian Haylett <
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        Date:   Monday, 23 Apr 2001 16:04:07 +0100
        Subj:   Re: Tragic Hero

[2]     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Monday, 23 Apr 2001 09:33:25 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0897 Re: Tragic Hero

[3]     From:   Judith M. Craig <
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        Date:   Monday, 23 Apr 2001 21:53:52 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0909 Re: Tragic Hero


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Haylett <
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Date:           Monday, 23 Apr 2001 16:04:07 +0100
Subject:        Re: Tragic Hero

>This explanation for his "sadness" seems as plausible to me as the one
>that he may be homosexual and fits the language of the play as well as
>the conduct of young "wastrels."  The reference that I cannot quote from
>memory is surely to the story of the "Prodigal Son" as I do believe the
>word "prodigal" is mentioned in the exact quote.

Some 18 months ago - and evoking deathly silence, as I remember it - I
suggested that the reason for Antonio's sadness was his failure to 'know
himself', that the play was about his unconscious discontent with his
mercenary life, and his subsequent climb to fulfillment. His commitment
to backing Bassanio's unmercenary (I claim!) venture causes Antonio to
have a sort of dark night of the soul in which his life is at risk.
Having been rescued, as a direct result of Bassanio's quest, it is
necessary for Antonio to realise there is more to life than his pound of
flesh - hence his being led to pledge his soul in Act V. That is why I
think it is important that he is consulted twice over the ring, as part
of an ongoing education. The Prodigal Son is certainly a relevant
reference.

One may argue whether this was Shakespeare's final achievement or an
initial intention, later overlaid by subsidiary action. But am I totally
alone in thinking there is a reasonable case to be argued here. Anyone
for Venice?

Brian Haylett

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Monday, 23 Apr 2001 09:33:25 -0700
Subject: 12.0897 Re: Tragic Hero
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0897 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.

To which Stevie Gamble responded:

>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.

I'm confused. What is "not true," that Protestant reformers were not
against lending at interest? or the projections based on this fact?  (It
is a fact that Lord Burghley, certainly a Protestant reformer, wished to
see lending at interest made legal. As Lord Treasurer he saw that
England needed banks and bankers, and that the abuses of unregulated
money-lending hurt everyone but the unscrupulous.)

>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.

One more reason why the Protestant reformers wanted the laws changed.

>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.

Sorry about that. I certainly did not mean to say that. A "lapse 'o
lingy" as my grandmother would say. A slip of syntax.

>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.

I posted in response to the inevitable discussion revolving around the
question of whether or not Shakespeare himself was an anti-Semite to
suggest that his intention may have been NOT to paint a nasty picture of
a Jew but a nasty picture of a seemingly doctrinaire Protestant
reformist who dressed in black, named his children after OT characters,
spouted religious doctrine at every turn and fulminated in Parliament
and Church against the theaters while practicing extortion on the side.

It was this sort of person who was stripping ignorant young gentlemen of
their livings in the London of Shakespeare's time, a problem that is
well documented and that would have been far more likely to have been a
target of his wrath then Jews of the Rialto, who were a good thousand
miles away and offered no threat whatsoever to the ordinary Englishman.
And his audiences would have understood precisely who the playwright was
targeting, although we might not recognize him today unless we know
something about the history of the period.

Shakespeare portrayed this individual as a Jew much as we today might
portray a disliked authoritarian politician of our own time as Hitler.
We wish he had not, much as gentle intelligent Germans today must wish
we would stop giving every fictional band of thugs in B films German
accents, but that does not mean that Shakespeare was lashing out at Jews
out of an inherent anti-Semitism of his own any more than the B film
director has anything personally against Germans. He took a stereotype,
conflated it with a known and hated contemporary figure, and, humanist
magician that he was, proceeded to give that stereotype the opportunity
to defend himself and his people with stirring rhetoric in the court of
public opinion that was offered by the stage.

>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.

Thanks for highlighting the multiple resonances of this subject in MOV,
more examples surely of what riches are to be found in Shakespeare's
works, but are you saying that Shakespeare himself had all this in mind
when he wrote? If so, what stunning educations were to be had at the
Stratford grammar school.

>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...

Bigger game? Are you saying that the then current controversy over
Equity vs. Common Law was beneath Shakespeare?  That only the eternal
verities, such as the nature of value and risk as debated by Aristotle,
ever occupied his mind?

Well, we are all entitled to our opinions, particularly someone with as
much to offer to the discourse as you clearly have.

Stephanie Hughes

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Judith M. Craig <
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Date:           Monday, 23 Apr 2001 21:53:52 -0400
Subject: 12.0909 Re: Tragic Hero
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0909 Re: Tragic Hero

Thank you Sean and Florence.  I will check out your essay, Florence.
Frankly, Sean, I don't know where you've been during the sexual
revolution.  I am still unconvinced that my reading is less plausible
than the currently fashionable one that makes Antonio homosexual.    I
have never been a rabid feminist, but I am not too naive to know how
heterosexual men do talk and think.

Judy Craig

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