Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: May ::
Re: Tragic Hero
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1032  Friday, 4 May 2001

[1]     From:   Stevie Gamble <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
        Date:   Thursday, 3 May 2001 12:55:28 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0974 Re: Tragic Hero

[2]     From:   Stevie Gamble <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
        Date:   Thursday, 3 May 2001 12:55:34 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0960 Re: Tragic Hero

From:           Stevie Gamble <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Date:           Thursday, 3 May 2001 12:55:28 EDT
Subject: 12.0974 Re: Tragic Hero
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0974 Re: Tragic Hero

Stephanie Hughes <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

>>As I have pointed out the topic of usury was a subject which featured
>>largely largely in religious sermons, writings, and secular literature.
>>People without the education afforded to Shakespeare had extensive
>>knowlege of the doctrines; you are imagining a world shaped in the way
>>your own is, not the way that it was.
>Please do not judge my mindset.

I was commenting on your assertion that only someone who had an
excellent grammar school education could possibly have understood these
sorts of issues. That assertion is factually incorrect.

>It appears I know a great deal more than
>you about the attitude towards usury among the ordinary readers and
>writers of Shakespeare's time.
>There is also the question of knowing too much about something. If all
>you've got is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Frankly I don't
>think a deep awareness of usury issues dating back to prehistory and up
>to present day Iran brings light to more than a fraction of MOV. But if
>that's how you see it, who am I to judge? It is you who have judged my
>way of seeing the play and I am defending it. As long as we show respect
>for each other, there is an opportunity for both of us to learn

I'm a little puzzled; are you claiming that you know too much or too
little about usury? I still await the substantiation of your claim on
the Protestant Reformers; as noted elsewhere, Wolfall hardly fits the
bill. Of course, the people who took part in the May Day demonstrations
here in the City of London and around the world against the
impoverishment of the already extremely poor by the financial community
do think that the play has very important resonances for the real world.

>>>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
>>> ever occupied his mind?
>>Actually, I never suggested that anything was 'beneath Shakespeare'.
>>I'm suggesting that a playwright writing about usury would be tackling
>>one of the great questions of the age, and that if you do some basic
>>research you will realise that the play is hip-deep in references to
>>aspects of usury theory.  It is, in my view, perverse to suggest that we
>>ignore all of those and decide that what Shakespeare was really doing
>>was providing commentary a la CNN on day-to-day life in Jacobean
>>England.  He wasn't a television reporter consumed with a burning need
>>to find something *Relevant*, nay *Shocking* to comment on for the
>>afternoon programme; I think that another poster, Sean Lawrence got it
>>right when he described that sort of approach to the play as 'a sort of
>>historicism gone mad'. It seems to me to be equally bizarre to ignore
>>the overwhelming evidence and take off in pursuit of some mythical
>>villain apparently easily identifiable by all the audience as being
>>Shylock in disguise. This is the Merchant of Venice, not an episode of
>>the X-Files.
>If it had been written in the Ivory Tower of your imagination it would
>never have earned its way to recognition in the marketplace.  However,
>the audience I suggest, the gentlemen of the Inns of Court and JPs from
>all over the nation gathered in London for the Parliament was, in fact,
>a pretty well-educated bunch and may have been all ears for
>Shakespeare's arguments re usury.

I have never suggested that Shakespeare had arguments re usury. We seem
to be back to your apparent conviction that Shakespeare wrote plays in
the same way that other people wrote essays; to put arguments. He
didn't. He wrote plays.  But I am fascinated to discover that you
consider usury to be an "Ivory Tower" subject; I think that perhaps if
you knew a little more about the real world of economics, and the global
financial markets, you would find the play more rewarding. Certainly it
plays well here in the Barbican, where many of the audience have at
least some basic understanding. Perhaps an example of the real world
might ground it for you. As far as I am aware the world record for a
loss on one single trade still stands at a quarter of a billion dollars;
it was achieved by a mortgage trader at Merrill Lynch in the 1980s who
entered into an IO/PO deal. Put simply an IO/PO involves stripping an
interest bearing security into two separate instruments; one a stream of
payments and the other the right to repayment of the principal at the
end of the period stipulated. Unfortunately, having sold the interest
stream over lunch, interest rates moved before he could get back to his
office, giving a new dimension to the old adage that there is no such
thing as a free lunch.  For technical reasons that I won't bore you with
the amount representing the principal is hugely volatile, hugely
sensitive to the slightest movement in rates. It is hugely risky.
Shakespeare and much of his audience would have been able to grasp it
without much difficulty; they lived before economics became an academic
subject, and had no difficulty whatsoever in grasping that risk is
risk.  Many of them had thought the situation through to the point where
they had grasped that managing risk is a contradiction in terms, a
precept which would have saved a great deal of heart-ache had bankers
managed to grasp it in the latter part of the 20th century.  But they
were also perfectly well aware that values and price are not
equivalents; what is the value of a glass of water to a person dying of
thirst? What is a debt and can it be of love or just of money or goods?
Do we owe affection to anyone, and if so how and why? Can a debt of love
be paid, and if so, in what sort of coin? What did Portia's father risk
when he threw her into the lottery with apparently not even an
opportunity to purchase a winning ticket? Usury encompasses those
questions, and many more; do we know the price of everything and the
value of nothing, or do we give and hazard all we have? In return for
what? And just what is risk, and what do we risk?

>One of the measures of Shakespeare's greatness is his ability to weave
>many themes into one fabric. If his play was only about an easily
>recognized villain, a money-lender who spouted Protestant doctrine, he
>might have made it big on the street but lost posterity.
>Had it been
>only about usury, he would never have made it to posterity as he would
>not have made it big on the street. As for the X-files, take an
>especially good episode, add some philosophy and an eternal theme or
>two, and you've got the Shakespeare of 1597.

I am sorry to intrude a note of vulgar commercialism here, but usury was
a hot property sales-wise; take a look at the number of books published
about it in the 16th century. And you appear to have forgotten that you
asserted that the play was about a specific English moneylender though
you have not named him; again, let me remind you:

>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.

So who was this person?

Stevie Gamble

From:           Stevie Gamble <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Date:           Thursday, 3 May 2001 12:55:34 EDT
Subject: 12.0960 Re: Tragic Hero
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0960 Re: Tragic Hero

Stephanie Hughes <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

>>Stevie Gamble:
>>>>The notion that the Protestant reformers were not at all against
>>>>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?
>>I'm sorry that you are confused; you asserted that the Protestant
>>reformers were not at all against lending money at interest, and I was
>>observing that this is untrue. You appear to be unaware that Luther.
>>. . viewed usury as a sin . . .
>Of course, most Christians did so and had done for centuries.  The
>problem, or one problem, is the definition of usury. Conservatives
>defined it as lending money at any rate of interest others simply at
>injuriously high rates. It was one of those hot button issues, like
>abortion today. At what point is the baby a human? At what point does
>interest become usury?

No. As I have tried to demonstrate by reference to specific individual
commentators, the question of what constitutes interest is central to
these issues, since many scholars, including Calvin, regarded the term
as a specious tag thought up to clothe usury in more acceptable
garments. Thus, to define usury as taking interest- of whatever the
amount- is to beg the question; just as to describe Luther and Calvin as
conservatives is to import both anachronism and inaccuracy into the

>>>(It   is a fact that Lord Burghley, certainly a Protestant reformer,
>>Er, I have a very high regard for Elizabeth's minister but neither he
>>nor anyone else would have imagined himself to be on a par with Luther
>>or Calvin.  Perhaps you would explain precisely what you mean by a
>>'Protestant reformer', if you are excluding Luther and Calvin from your
>Luther and Calvin are your contributions, not mine. They are not English
>and have nothing to do with the issue at question,

No. To argue that Luther and Calvin have nothing to do with the issues
of religion and economics comprised in the usury debates because they
are not English is nonsensical. They were cited over and over again in
the legion of works on usury published in the 16th century in England
(see R H Tawney's introduction to Thomas Wilson's _A Discourse upon
Usury_, page 1) and, of course, played pivotal roles in what we describe
as the Reformation. You appear to think that England was an isolated
backwater totally insulated from the rest of the Renaissance world. It

>whether or not the
>MOV revolves to some extent around attitudes towards English
>money-lenders (rather than Jews of the Rialto).

Actually, I didn't suggest that MOV does revolve around attitudes to
English moneylenders; it is you who appears convinced that no playwright
can possibly be writing about the general, and must be writing about the
narrowly particular.

>The London merchants who
>were most interested in laws regulating finance were mostly Protestants
>at this time, some could be defined as Puritans. They were interested in
>reforms of all sorts, from religious to financial.  What shall we call

Well, if you wish to be understood without lengthy explanations I would
suggest that you pick a term a little less counter-intuitive, and bear
in mind that the laws regulating issues of finance were of interest to a
much larger section of the population than you appear to imagine.

>Burghley was certainly both a Protestant and a reformer. He spent
>his life reforming everything from the coinage to the universities. His
>close friends were religious reformers and he, like many others, was
>wont to spout religious doctrine at every turn.

Since, however, Burleigh did not hold the views on usury that you
attribute to him, it is difficult to see what relevance this has...

>>>wished to
>>>see lending at interest made legal.
>>I should like a citation for that statement; after all, Burghley and
>>Elizabeth flatly refused to allow anyone to set up  monte pietas in
>>England.  Admittedly they were both extremely proficient at recognising
>>a poison chalice when they saw one, but there were plenty of other
>>opportunities to make lending at interest legal had they wished to.
>I should have said he was for lending at above ten percent. A law passed
>in 1572 made it illegal to lend money at a rate higher than ten percent.
>Quotes may be found in Conyers Read's biography "Mr.  Secretary Cecil
>and Queen Elizabeth" page 274 (NY; Knopf; 1955).

No. I have not yet been able to lay hands on the work you cite, but I
assume that you are in fact referring to the Usury Statute of 1571; that
statute did not make it legal to lend at less than 10% and Burleigh did
not suggest that lending above 10% should be made legal.  Burleigh's
extensive private jottings are to be found at BL Landsdowne 101, nos 24
and 26, and we all owe a vote of thanks to Norman Jones for endeavouring
to wrest some order from the chaos enclosed therein- see God and the
Moneylenders, 1989, Blackwell, pp34-42. Incidentally, Jones
characterises Burleigh as holding a conservative view on usury, not the
other way round.

>>>As Lord Treasurer he saw that
>>>England needed banks and bankers, and that the abuses of unregulated
>>>money-lending hurt everyone but the unscrupulous.)
>>England had banks, and it had bankers, just as today Saudi Arabia and
>>Kuwait, for example, have banks and bankers; there is an extremely
>>flourishing Islamic banking market, which operates within the global
>>financial markets as do other banks. The words banker and money-lender
>>are not synonymous, and banks come in large number of varieties.
>Hmmm. My old World Book encyclopedia states that the first bank in
>Europe was instituted in 1587 in Venice and that banking as we know it
>began in England in the early 1600s, but what do they know. The date
>I've been using for MOV is 1597.

Sadly, your old World Book encyclopedia seems somewhat deficient in this
area; banks of many kinds have been in existence for thousands of years,
and if we constrain ourselves to Europe in the Medieval period we have a
wealth of possibilities. The following is a brief sample:

Raymond de Roover: Money, Banking and Credit in Medieval Bruges,
Cambridg, Mass.1948,
The Rise and Decline of the Medici Bank, 1397-1494, Harvard University
Cambridge, Massacchusetts, 1963

Richard Ehrenberg: Capital & Finance in the Age of the Renaissance, A
Study of the Fuggers and
their Connections, A Partial Translation from the German by H M Lucas,
Ist Edition 1928, reprinted 1985 by Augustus M Kelley, Publishers,
Fairfield, NJ 07006

Leon Poliakov: Jewish Bankers and the Holy See from the Thirteenth to
the Seventeenth
Century, English Translation by Miriam Kochan, 1977, Routledge & Kegan
Paul, London. First published in France, 1965

I have no idea what 'banking as we know it' is intended to convey;
banking systems vary widely from country to country, as they do from
time to time.

>>>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.
>>Do you have any specific examples of these individuals?
>The practises of the money-lender John Wolfall are discussed by Charles
>Nicholl in "The Reckoning" page 26.

I think that you have perhaps lost the thread of your argument; allow me
to refresh your memory.  In my first post on this topic I wrote:

"Elizabethan England had moneylenders in plenty, including John
Shakespeare, some of them rapacious, but very few of them Jews." I don't
doubt the existence of rapacious lenders; I asked for an example of a
rapacious lender fitting your description. I may be overlooking
something here, since I have only had time for rudimentary research, but
as far as we know Wolfall was not an MP, did not spout religious
doctrine, did not dress in black, did not name his children after OT
characters and did not fulminate about anything anywhere. Do you have
another candidate who fits your profile a bit better?

>Greene's portrait of Gorinus in his
>Groatsworth of Witte is a literary portrait of such a one. The most
>cursory reading of the social history or the literature of the time will
>turn up plenty of examples.

The most cursory reading of the social history does not appear to have
provided you with the example of a real person. If you wish to maintain
that this was widespread then surely you should have no difficulty in
providing one of so many.

>>>It was this sort of person who was stripping ignorant young gentlemen
>>>their livings in the London of Shakespeare's time, a problem that is
>>>well documented
>>again it would be helpful for citations on this...
>The young gentleman who has been fleeced by an unscrupulous money-lender
>became a staple of the stage during the Jacobean era and by Congreve's
>time he had become a stereotype. As for the period we are examining,
>Thomas Nashe complains of it. Greene and Lodge have a debtor complain of
>it in "A Lookiing Glass for London." It's all over the place. If you're
>interested in the causes and the sorry results I'll be more explicit but
>digging up citations for something that is so egregiously plentiful is a
>waste of my time . The of estates of young heirs and second sons to
>greedy money-lenders was a very great problem that shows up in numerous
>documents of the time. If you don't believe me I'll just have to live
>with it.

I will simply repeat; you have not provided one documented example of a
young gentleman fleeced by a money-lender of the type you describe. I
don't doubt the unscrupulous moneylenders, and neither do I doubt that
young gentleman have been getting fleeced since the dawn of time, or at
any rate shortly after the dawn of recorded history. What I challenge is
your assertion that MOV is about a particular money-lender, of the type
you describe, fleecing the innocent young gentleman.  You have not
provided any evidence to substantiate anything you have said on this.

Stevie Gamble

S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, 
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
The S H A K S P E R Webpage <>

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.