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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: May ::
Re: Tragic Hero
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1132  Tuesday, 15 May 2001

[1]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Monday, 14 May 2001 14:53:08 -0400
        Subj:   Subject: Re: Tragic Hero

[2]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Monday, 14 May 2001 13:18:13 -0700
        Subj:   Re: Tragic Hero

[3]     From:   Karen Peterson-Kranz <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 15 May 2001 03:43:03 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1118 Re: Tragic Hero

[4]     From:   Marcus Dahl <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 15 May 2001 07:22:43 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1118 Re: Tragic Hero

[5]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 15 May 2001 08:15:52 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1118 Re: Tragic Hero


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Monday, 14 May 2001 14:53:08 -0400
Subject:        Subject: Re: Tragic Hero

As I remember, Graham Bradshaw originally asked why Shakespeare adds the
story of the caskets to that of the bond in MV. One might also observe
that he extends the story of the bond with an entirely original trial
scene, and extends the story of the caskets by emphasizing the story of
the rings in acts 4 and 5.

All of these stories have the same bottom line, I think: the game is
rigged from the start. Portia makes sure that Bassanio wins the game
when it is his turn.  Portia makes sure that Shylock cannot "collect" on
his bond because he is an outsider.  Portia also makes sure that Antonio
knows the limits of his friendship with Bassanio once the latter is
married.

In each case, an "outsider" or "outsiders" are put in their place.  The
theme of MOV is much like that of Ralph Ellison's "King of the Bingo
Game": if you are not of the right class, race, or sex, even when you
win, you lose. MV is, it seems to me, about the invisible hand that
operates within a culture to insure that only the "right" people get
treated well. Jessica may be a dummy, but she knows enough to convert:
it insures that she is a "winner" in this cultural game.

--Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Monday, 14 May 2001 13:18:13 -0700
Subject:        Re: Tragic Hero

All Stephanie Hughes had to do was say, _You know, you're right. I did
make a suggestion without backing it up. Possibly I'm right, and
possibly wrong. I should find out before I assert it again._ Alas, Ms.
Hughes rebuts:

>Of course that's what they do in books, articles and lectures, but an
>online group like this is a different sort of animal and I don't see any
>reason to force it into old formats.

How about intellectual honesty?

>There's certainly nothing wrong with using it
>to prove or support a thesis. But to limit discussion here only to that
>which is supported by documentation (in reality, documentation
>acceptable to you and certain others) is effectively to eliminate such
>ideas from this forum.

It is a disadvantage to keep spurious ideas from being accepted as fact?
That seems like an advantage to me. Such a standard keeps conversation
grounded. Accepting less is a waste of time. There is no difference in
kind between saying that *MOV* is based, in part, on a real incident,
than there is in saying Shakespeare was an alien sent to enlighten us
with poetry from another galaxy. The difference, huge though it seems,
is only in degree. Both ascertains are flawed because they are without
substantiation.

> If you are genuinely interested in my notions about MOV (though I
>suspect that you are not)

Don't pick the scab.  You have given me no reason to believe your
notions are well founded, have you?   Notions grounded in reality, no
matter the source, are most welcome.

>As I've explained over and over, I don't think it's necessary to "back
>up" everything I say.

Then why should anybody take you seriously? You must give us a reason,
not expect it as a right.  BTW, you just as much as admitted that my
suggestion of last week, that you ignored the principles of sound
scholarship, is true.  Good to know that we agree on that.  Now,
possibly, we can build to an understanding.

I wrote:

>>Is it likely that there were bed tricks, people sneaking into wives
>>rooms to steal bracelets and look for moles, and ghosts going to
>>their sons to request revenge? Why would *MOV* be more likely
>>to be based on a real event than these incidents?

Ms. Hughes replied:

>Actually, there are indeed real incidents behind the first and last of
>these that are to be found in the biography of He Who Must Not be >Named. (Those who are interested in my reasons for saying this are > welcome to post me off-list.)

Proselytizing again. Oh, dear.

There is no reason to go there. Ghosts demanding revenge? That didn't
happen to de Vere, and you know it. You also SHOULD know that most of
Shakespeare's stories are based on sources, which he sometimes even
quotes or closely paraphrases, something you denied in a post a couple
of years ago. *MOV* is an example of this, as I pointed out last week,
and Stetner pointed out in his post on Monday. We know where many of
Shakespeare's stories come from. Attributing them to life in not
necessary. If you can show something in Shakespeare's life that is as
convincing a parallel as the sources, we will have cause to be
interested and grateful, but the source stories and histories are an
adequate explanation.

>Then use them yourself and either ignore those who don't or politely
>suggest how they might better make their points, and IF they >continue to ignore you, THEN ignore them. Don't seek to damage
> either their self-esteem or the opinion in which others regard them.

Isn't it more important to get the ideas right?

Ah, the cult of self-esteem. As someone who spent time on a couch
dealing with my self-esteem problems, I don't trash the esteem of others
lightly, but I do sacrifice it under certain circumstances. That comes
only after what I consider to be reasonable measures to appeal to
someone's intelligence yields no result. There was a time I approached
you this way. It didn't work, so I recently pointed out an argumentation
pattern of yours, which you are now trying to defend. This next bit will
seem a digression, but I'm setting context.

It is my belief that the reason the de Vere nonsense has gotten so out
of hand is that Shakespeareans saw it as a harmless argument by silly
people. Instead of pouncing on it and educating people decades ago, they
spent their time doing more important work. The problem is that,
unchecked, the conspiracy minded proliferated and made converts. One
day, we looked up, found a stunning number of people unskilled in
critical thinking believing specious arguments, and realized there was a
price to pay for doing that more important work. Possibly that price was
worth paying, but it was still a price.

With that in mind, I'll paraphrase your suggestion quoted above. "Don't
stand up to people with specious ideas and arguments.  If they ignore
your correction. Let them proliferate."

No. I won't. Why should I? Why should anyone?

>Of course the quotation is out of context, which I'm sure would
> reveal that the point I was making was that the function of thinking, > sans modifier, is far more important to a search for the truth than
> the modified version you call "critical" thinking.

I never suggested you thought otherwise. You missed the point. You
missed it again when you wrote:

>Critical thinking is useful, but only when something needs
>to be critiqued, that is, closely examined, compared with other data, >ideas, etc. There may be many kinds of thinking, but certainly an >important one is the opposite of the either/or of critical thinking but >an "and/and" sort of thinking. It is out of this kind of thinking that we >get the right questions. Without the right questions, no amount of >critical thinking will find the right answers. I happen to believe that in >the areas we discuss, we've been asking a lot of wrong questions, or >even, no questions.

Critical thinking, or as a logic professor I know once called it, logic
without the math, is a tool for several things, including determining if
you are asking the right questions, so I have you covered there. It is
also how we keep from making the kinds of mistakes I suggest you are
making when you assert that *MOV* has a source in life, without having a
reason to back it up. Cute, how you changed the subject.  Changing it
doesn't eliminate the critical thinking error.

>You may be less concerned that we are asking the right questions >than I am. This is not to say that you are wrong and I am right, >simply that there may be more involved for me, and possibly others >who remain silent, than there is for you, who are comfortable with >the questions as you see them.

You sling a pretty mean insult yourself!

Mike Jensen

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Karen Peterson-Kranz <
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Date:           Tuesday, 15 May 2001 03:43:03 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 12.1118 Re: Tragic Hero
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1118 Re: Tragic Hero

Clifford Stetner quite rightly points out that

> No one, I believe, has addressed the question posed
> by Graham Bradshaw:
>
> >The story of the bond comes from one source, pretty
> intact
> >though changed.  Why did Shakespeare want to add
> the caskets
>
> which is also for me the center around which all of
> the above issues are
> tied together like a knot to form an overarching
> theme.

CS's analysis of how the folk tale narratives relate to Medieval and
Renaissance allegory offers a valuable perspective.  The presence of
allegorical patterns in Shakespeare has not (to my knowledge) been
investigated much in recent criticism, and there is much still to be
discovered.  I am not sufficiently well-versed in this area to offer a
valid opinion; however, I recently re-read the following, which may
relate: C.S. Lewis's brief remarks on MOV, in "Hamlet:
The Prince or The Poem?" (Annual Shakespeare Lecture of the British
Academy, 1942; reprinted in *They Asked For a Paper*, London 1962).
Yes, it's old.  Yes, it's Lewis.  And I want to stress that I do not
necessarily agree with Lewis's analysis.  But I found it interesting in
light of this recent discussion.  Others may find it interesting as
well, and as this address is not much anthologized, I will quote it
below at some length:

"A good example of the kind of play which can be twisted out of
recognition by character criticism is the *Merchant of Venice*.  Nothing
is easier than to disengage and condemn the mercenary element in
Bassanio's original suit to Portia, to point out that Jessica was a bad
daughter, and by dwelling on Shylock's wrongs to turn him into a tragic
figure.  The hero thus becomes a scamp, the heroine's love for him a
disaster, the villain a hero, the last act an irrelevance, and the
casket story a monstrosity.  What is not explained is why anyone should
enjoy such a depressing and confused piece of work.  It seems to me that
what we actually enjoy is something quite different.  The real play is
not so much about men as about metals.  The horror of usury lay in the
fact that it treated metal in a way contrary to nature.  If you have
cattle they will breed.  To make money -- the mere medium of exchange --
breed as if it were alive is a sort of black magic.  The speech about
Laban and Jacob is put into Shylock's mouth to show that he cannot grasp
this distinction; and the Christians point out that friendship does not
take 'a breed of barren metal'.  The important thing about Bassanio is
that he can say, 'Only my blood speaks to you in my veins', and again,
'All the wealth I had ran in my veins.'  Sir Walter Raleigh most
unhappily, to my mind, speaks of Bassanio as a 'pale shadow'.  *Pale* is
precisely the wrong word.  The whole contrast is between the crimson and
organic wealth in his veins, the medium of nobility and fecundity, and
the cold, mineral wealth in Shylock's counting-house.  The charge that
he is a mercenary wooer is a product of prosaic analysis.  The play is
much nearer the *Marchen* level than that.  When the hero marries the
princess we are not expected to ask whether her wealth, her beauty, or
her rank was the determining factor.  They are all blended together in
the simple man's conception of Princess.  Of course great ladies are
beautiful; of course they are rich.  Bassanio compares Portia to the
Golden Fleece.  That strikes the proper note.  And when once we approach
the play with our senses and imaginations it becomes obvious that the
presence of the casket story is no accident.  For it also is a story
about metals, and the rejection of the commercial metals by Bassanio is
a kind of counterpoint to the conquest of Whylock's metallic power by
the lady of the beautiful mountain.  The very terms in which they are
rejected proclaim it.  Silver is the 'pale and common drudge 'twixt man
and man'.  Gold is 'hard food for Midas' -- Midas who, like Shylock,
tried to use as the fuel of life what is in its own nature dead.  And
the last act, so far from being an irrelevant coda, is almost the thing
for which the play exists.  The 'naughty world' of finance exists in the
play chiefly that we may perceive the light of the 'good deed', or
rather of the good state, which is called Belmont." (59-61)

Of course, the trope of "blood" as a form of wealth opens up a hornet's
nest of other questions and problems (I, in fact, managed to wring a
master's thesis out of it insofar as the blood/money nexus as initially
articulated in MOV later appeared in *Two Noble Kinsmen*).  But Lewis's
remarks about the theme of "metals" seems in some ways to fit Clifford
Stetner's analysis of allegories in the play.

Cheers,
Karen Peterson

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marcus Dahl <
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Date:           Tuesday, 15 May 2001 07:22:43 EDT
Subject: 12.1118 Re: Tragic Hero
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1118 Re: Tragic Hero

A question regarding Clifford's interpretation of S's MOV:

Would you regard the same symbolic/allegorical / medieval / anagogical /
hermeneutic process which you identify as existing in MOV to exist in
the works of other playwrights of the same time? I mean, assuming I
accept your date (around the time of the history plays - which ones?)
would you be so ready to jump to such interpretative depths for say
James the Fourth, Alarum for London or Battle of Alcazar, Old Wives
Tale, Friar Bungay etc etc which all contain similar 'everyman'
characters and medieval/ renaissance source influence?

More succinctly: are you identifying what you consider to be a
Shakespearean trait or a general English Early Modern Playmaker trait?

Best,
Marcus.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Tuesday, 15 May 2001 08:15:52 -0500
Subject: 12.1118 Re: Tragic Hero
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1118 Re: Tragic Hero

Re Stephanie on discussion: a lot depends on what you say and how you
say it. If you make a suggestion or offer an idea in a conversational
way, no one, I think, will object. They turn up here all the time. If
you make an assertion or propound a theory, then you are obliged to
offer sufficient evidence to make it worthy of discussion.

Re Clifford on anagogy, et al. While I find the analysis interesting, I
also tend to find that methodology rather slippery. I tend to lose track
of where we are discussing the play and where the methodology. Sometimes
I get the feeling of being in a theological discussion rather than a
literary one. (It has nothing to do with Dante; I have the same trouble
with Freudian analyses, among some others).

Now to me, the play is about Love (as I believe I stated before). The
author used the casket story as a somewhat different way of involving us
in the central Romantic Love plot (Bassanio - Portia). Played well, this
can be quite exciting -- but the actors must make us feel the tension
and fear of the two lovers as they seek union by fulfilling (rather than
evading, as in MSND) the demands of the tyrannical old. The romance of
Jessica and Lorenzo (and, to a lesser extent, that of Leonardo and
Nerissa) parallel this central plot and comment on it.

Equally central, however, is the Friendship plot figured in the pound of
flesh story. Because Antonio loves Bassanio and wishes him to be happy
and fulfilled, he makes the unwise bargain that then comes back to haunt
him.  You could argue that the Friendship plot is actually more
important than the Romance plot because it also involves the most
important kind of love, self-sacrificing love or agape, as Friendship
commonly has throughout history. You could even argue that Antonio is a
kind of Christ figure.  Probably somebody has.

Of course, the opposite of love also is illustrated in the hatred of
Shylock and Antonio for each other. Antonio hates Shylock because he
gouges money from people through usury. Shylock hates Antonio because he
lends money gratis and thus drives down the interest rate. Antonio
expresses his hatred by spitting on his enemy. Shylock expresses his by
trying to get his enemy legally murdered. Various historical factors --
from the triumph of capitalism to the horror of Auschwitz -- have made
it difficult to appreciate just where Shakespeare's sympathies (and
those of his audience) lay, but it can be done -- though with some cost.

Finally, the play is about Justice and Mercy, both human and divine, and
both (especially Mercy) expressions of Love.

This, in outline, is how I view the play and make it coherent to myself
both as a written text and as a dramatic experience. I am open to all
sorts interesting interpretations and scholarly explorations --
folk-tale, anagogy, usury laws and theories, attitudes toward Jews in
Elizabethan England -- provided they don't make it incoherent. A great
deal of its power lies in its coherence, its drive toward the final
confrontation of a false and hate-filled justice with loving mercy.
Undermining and confusing that drive has done terrible damage to it.

With all love and friendship,
don

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