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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: May ::
Re: Tragic Hero
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1249  Monday, 28 May 2001

[1]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Friday, 25 May 2001 17:25:15 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1226 Re: Tragic Hero

[2]     From:   Mari Bonomi <
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        Date:   Saturday, 26 May 2001 15:01:32 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1226 Re: Tragic Hero

[3]     From:   Thomas Larque <
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        Date:   Sunday, 27 May 2001 03:19:31 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1226 Re: Tragic Hero


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Friday, 25 May 2001 17:25:15 -0700
Subject: 12.1226 Re: Tragic Hero
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1226 Re: Tragic Hero

I want to thank Ms. Amit for giving the references in the text. The
argument seems vulnerable to me at some points.

>Salario says he saw Bassanio and Gratiano under sail" is III,i,1,2 and
>Jessica takes a sea voyage with Lorenzo. All of them end up in Belmont.
>Obviously, Belmont therefore, is not a suburb of Venice.

We know from references in the play that in the play's world, they are
not all that far apart. Shakespeare was a poor geographer in other
plays, his Italian plays being the most notorious. It is problematic to
build too much on his geography.

>So where is it? I know from history books where it should be and
>Shakespeare compliments history.

I'm not sure what this means.

>Launcelet has got a "Negro" with child: a local girl of Montenegro, surely.

Why surely? The texts we have do not specify.

I do not know enough about your other comments to have an opinion either
favorable or unfavorable. I reserve judgment until I see other points of
view.

I believe that if Shakespeare wanted the audience to know something, he
usually told them. If he wanted the audience to know that one of the
characters was a Marrano, he did a spectacularly inept job of informing
them. You'd expect him to say it straight out, and in a play that is in
part about race, I see no reason to keep this hidden.  One would have to
postulate that he expected his audiences to know as much as you do about
all this, and figure it out. I find this unlikely.

Turning to Ed Taft's always excellent comments:

>Terence Hawkes is right: Stephanie Hughes (and Florence Amit) march to the
>beat of their own drummers. They have every right to do so. If other
>contributors to the list have exposed what they consider to be shortcomings
>or contradictions in the views of Ms. Hughes and Ms. Amit, the act of
>stating such shortcomings or contradictions should be enough. Anything more
>is just piling on.

Perhaps the title of my next book should be, *Life Lessons from
SHAKSPER.*

I've given this a lot of thought, Ed; a LOT of thought. I'm not at all
sure you are wrong. I'm responding on list, rather than off, in hopes
that others will contribute.

I do see your point, but I'm think of points you didn't address.

LAST WORD
There is power in a point of view having the last word. If I make my
point, and someone says, "Oh, yeah!" and repeats the same drivel they
stated before, they get the last word. I wonder if that doesn't send the
wrong message, especially to less experienced list members?  Not that I
care that Mike Jensen has the last word. It may be me, or anyone who can
argue better. The point is that the best argument be seen, in a
political sense, to triumph. Am I wrong about this?

ROUND ROBIN
Isn't the comment unfair in that it privileges Ms. Hughes and Ms. Amit?
Why is it OK for them to trot out claims in answer to myself and others,
but not OK for us to respond to them?  In a sense this is the same thing
as having the last word, but from a different perspective.  Further, I
remember a time a few years ago when I expressed doubt off list about it
being worthwhile for me to continue to debate one of the women you
mention.  I was clearly winning the argument, but I was not winning the
person.  A member of the board for this list encouraged me to continue,
writing something close to, "The more she says, the more she exposes the
vacuousness of her argument." That made sense to me.

IT MATTERS
A couple of weeks ago I tried to explain why it matters, using the
proliferation of the notion that de Vere wrote the plays of Shakespeare
as my example.  That was a bad mistake, because it gave Ms. Hughes the
opportunity to make some Oxfordian points.  I screwed up big, and I'll
use this opportunity to apologize to everyone for making this mistake.
I'll try to find a way to make the same point now without opening that
door to anyone.

There are a lot of silly beliefs around, beliefs based far more on
prejudice than sound evidence.  Should we do nothing while such beliefs
win converts, as has happened in the past?  Is making our point, then
stopping rather than piling on, enough to stand up to this madness?  It
hasn't been, at least at some times in the past.  Am I wrong about this?

ENABLING
I'll spare everyone the familial reasons why, but I'm very concerned
about the pop-psychology concept of enabling.  To enable someone to have
self-destructive behavior is bad.  Making it hard for someone to be
self-destructive is good.  Arguably, floating off the wall ideas to this
list is not self-destructive, but I fail to see how it is a benefit.  I
may be wrong, wrong, wrong, but in my heart of hearts I believe those
who propose off the wall ideas benefit when they are challenged.  I know
I am better off for their challenge of me.  It forces me to reexamine,
and systematize my arguments, and that is a benefit.  Furthermore, I
want someone to stand up to me when I am wrong, or just may be wrong.  I
really do, and that is yet another reason for me to appreciate you
writing about this, Ed.

EXCEPTION
There is, of course, at least one exception.  That is when someone is
crazy.  Last month we learned, to our great sorrow, that a list member
whom many of us have challenged for her bigoted comments, was deeply
troubled.  Ed, you very kindly warned me off list that she was troubled,
but I did not realize how troubled, so I made some noise about not
enabling her to get away with bigotry.  The next day we saw in her own
words just how messed up she is. I have laid off ever since.  Everyone
has laid off ever since, and should.

If I thought the people you mention, and a couple of others, were
troubled in the same way, I would certainly lay off.  I have no reason
to think they are.  I may have reason to think they have other problems,
but nothing as serious as schizophrenia.  If anyone knows otherwise,
please let me know off list, and I shall become silent when they
provoke.

Ed, that is how I think about it today.  I really do agonize over this,
I'm not at all sure I am right, but what I have written above is my
rational for mixing it.

This may be my current perspective, but that does not make it the right
perspective.  I'm anxious for you, Ed, and anyone who has read this far,
to mix it up with me.  Is there a problem with my rational?  Something I
haven't considered?  My thoughts on this have evolved considerably, and
will evolve more.  I'll be grateful for you comments.

All the best,
Mike Jensen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mari Bonomi <
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Date:           Saturday, 26 May 2001 15:01:32 -0400
Subject: 12.1226 Re: Tragic Hero
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1226 Re: Tragic Hero

According to F. Amit, "Salario says he saw Bassanio and Gratiano under
sail" is III,i,1,2 and Jessica takes a sea voyage with Lorenzo."

Correct me if I've missed something here, Ms. Amit, but isn't Venice a
city where the primary transportation is via water? Wouldn't the trip
from a spot in Venice to a spot on the "mainland" if you will of Italy
(a suburb in contemporary terms of Venice) require sailing?

Why need one presuppose some long sea voyage when even the shortest
jaunt would be done under sail?

Other evidence of Lorenzo being a Marrano?

And if Belmont is the home of the Marranos, what is the significance of
Portia's home being there? Is Portia also a Marrano? In which case, why
would she defend Antonio against Shylock?

Inquiring minds sincerely want to know.

Mari Bonomi

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Sunday, 27 May 2001 03:19:31 +0100
Subject: 12.1226 Re: Tragic Hero
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1226 Re: Tragic Hero

> Salario says he saw Bassanio and Gratiano under sail" is III,i,1,2 and
> Jessica takes a sea voyage with Lorenzo. All of them end up in Belmont.
> Obviously, Belmont therefore, is not a suburb of Venice. I do not think
> it is in prejudicial Genoa III,i,72,  which name is put to mislead
> Shylock's adversaries. So where is it? I know from history books where
> it should be and Shakespeare compliments history. Launcelet has got a
> "Negro" with child: a local girl of Montenegro, surely. Belmont, (the
> name of a great center in Portugal for Marrano culture) is in the
> Ottoman held Balkans where crypto Jews were free from the threat of the
> inquisition. The placing corresponds to Portia's procedures III,iv, 84,
> to arrive in Venice for the trial. After a land journey she must takes
> the ferry III,iv, 53 to Padua , which is on an  estuary that is close to
> Venice. She uses her servant's, Balathazar, identity.

I do not have much knowledge of historical geography, so I may be wrong,
but it seems to me that much of what Florence Amit says about Portia's
route from Belmont to Venice (and the position of Belmont) is doubtful.

Certainly Belmont is not in Venice.  We can agree on this.  Not only
does Bassanio start his travel to Belmont by ship, but he welcomes his
"countrymen" and Salerio is described in a Quarto stage direction as "a
messenger from Venice" and by Bassanio as "my old Venetian friend"
(III.ii.  215-222).  There would be no need for such identification if
all the characters were from Venice and the scene took place there.

There is no textual evidence, however, that Portia takes "the ferry ...
to Padua" as Ms. Amit states (is this a typo?).  The ferry described
travels only "to Venice" and the starting point of its journey is not
clear.  Portia tells Balthazar to take a letter to Padua and then "what
notes and garments he doth give thee, / Bring them ... with imagin'd
speed / Unto the traject, to the common ferry / Which trades to Venice
... I shall be there before thee" (III.iv.51-55).  Balthazar may be
asked to travel to Padua and then return to the ferry link which Portia
will use as part of her direct travel between Belmont and Venice (which
could be anywhere, near or far from Belmont, since Portia begins her
journey by land) or the ferry may depart from Padua and Padua itself be
en route from Belmont to Venice.

The only ferry trip mentioned in the text, however - and so the only one
that Ms. Amit can use as textual support for her theory - is to Venice
*not* Padua.  Even if we assume that Portia travels to Padua en route to
Belmont (which is not confirmed by the text) we do not know whether she
arrived there by land and on coach, as she began her journey, or made a
sea trip along the way.

Since Venice could only be easily approached by sea, Bassanio's sea
travel is easily explained as a trip from Venice to any point on the
Italian mainland or anywhere else in the world, and wherever Belmont lay
outside Venice (encircled by water) a ferry trip would be necessary to
reach the city.  It is useless, therefore, as an indication of Belmont's
geographical location.  We know that Belmont is not in Venice nor in
Padua, since characters travel between the three places, and we know
that at least one way of journeying from Belmont to Venice involves a
land journey of at least twenty miles ("in my coach ... haste away, /
For we must measure twenty miles today" - III.iv.83-84 - even this is
ambiguous, however, since it could mean that they travel a total of
twenty miles including a sea trip, having made a short coach journey to
the port) other than this we do not have any indication as to where
Belmont is.

I am puzzled by Ms. Amit's claim that "Genoa['s] ... name is put to
mislead Shylock's adversaries".  Tubal tells Shylock, with none of
Shylock's adversaries present to mislead or be misled by, that Jessica
has been in Genoa.  She has left before Tubal can find her, but he has
evidence of her presence there.  He hears of her spending fourscore
ducats in one night, and one of Antonio's creditors (travelling back to
Venice with Tubal) shows him Shylock's ring which Jessica gave him for a
monkey.  Since Tubal and the creditor are heading back to Venice
together they have presumably come from the same direction (and we know
Tubal was in Genoa), and Jessica had clearly spent time nearby.  This is
no evidence that Genoa was between Venice and Belmont, however, since we
have no idea how circuitous a route Jessica may have taken between the
three places.  At some point Lorenzo and Jessica, presumably still
hovering around Italy, met Salerio who *was* travelling from Venice to
Belmont - but we have no idea where they met or when.  Belmont is
probably not *in* Genoa, since Jessica had apparently travelled on
before Tubalt could find her, but Genoa might still have been en route
from Venice to Belmont - we simply do not know.

It is also worth pointing out that there is no evidence that Jessica
"takes a sea voyage with Lorenzo".  They are seen in a gondola, which
was used for travel on the canals inside Venice, but never in a
sea-going vessel and glancing through the text I can find no other
indication of their means of travel until they arrive (via Genoa) in
Belmont with Salerio.

Since there is no other evidence to go by, Ms. Amit's only remaining
argument for Belmont's position is that the "negro" impregnated by
Launcelot is a "local girl of Montenegro" and that Belmont is therefore
in "the Ottoman held Balkans".  Again, I may be showing my ignorance,
but this seems to me a very peculiar argument.  If Ms. Amit knows of any
instance in which a Renaissance (or even a modern) source used the word
"negro" to describe a Montenegran, I would be very interested to see
it.  Montenegro is named for its black mountain, not its black people,
and as far as I know has no connection with "negros" beyond the
coincidental use of the five letter Latin word meaning black.  Surely in
English, at any rate, it is not normal to describe Montenegrans as
negros, and the English word "negro" means exclusively a black skinned
person, normally with African origins.  Shakespeare seems to confirm
that he had this meaning in mind by describing the woman as both a
"negro" and a "Moor", both of which were synonyms at the time and
referred to a person with dark skin.  There is much confusion about what
an Elizabethan meant by a "Moor" and I suppose that there might be some
in Montenegro dark enough to be called Moors by the Elizabethan English
(especially among the occupying Turks), but on a rough web search I
cannot find any instance of a Turk or "tawny Moor" (like the Prince of
Morocco in "Merchant of Venice") also being described as a "negro".
Perhaps somebody with access to LION or simply with more information
will be able to tell us whether any such instances occur in Renaissance
Literature.  Perhaps they do.  Unless Ms. Amit can provide evidence of
Montenegrans being described, in Renaissance sources, as both "negro"s
and "Moor"s then her argument for an exact location of Belmont in
Montenegro seems completely groundless.  If she has this evidence then I
would very much like to see it.

Shakespeare did not invent the name of Belmont, however, and it is quite
possible that his idea of its location was drawn more or less directly
from his source.  In "Il Pecorone" Belmonte [with an 'e'] is "some days"
away from Venice on the sea route to Alexandria.  It is "a bay with a
fine harbour", but when Gianetto (Shakespeare's Bassanio) is forced to
hurry back from Belmonte to rescue his father from the Jew "the lady"
(who Shakespeare names Portia) advises him "to horse immediately and
journey there by land, it is quicker than by sea" (see pages 142 and 148
of the Arden edition of "Merchant of Venice", which has a translation of
the story from "Il Pecorone").  This matches up pretty well with
Shakespeare's Belmont.  Bassanio travels to Belmont by ship, like
Gianetto, but when the crisis occurs Portia sets out for Venice by land,
like Gianetto hurrying back to save his father.  Apparently the only
difference is Portia's probable ferry journey to Venice, which
Shakespeare would probably have known to be necessary because Venice was
surrounded by water and anybody travelling to Venice from anywhere would
have had to use a boat or ship for the last part of the journey.

I would be interested to hear whether Ms. Amit believes that "Il
Pecorone's" Belmonte was also named after a Portuguese Morrano
settlement and intended to be placed in Montenegro, or whether she
thinks that these ideas originated with Shakespeare?  Montenegro does,
at least, have a coastline which could be passed by a ship heading from
Venice to Alexandria, so perhaps Ms. Amit's argument is not weakened by
"Il Pecorone".  The one statement that could not apply to Montenegro is
that it would be faster to return to Venice by land than by sea.

The only other indication of Belmont's location that Shakespeare gives
us may be significant, however.  Portia dislikes the Lord Falconbridge,
she tells Nerissa, because she cannot speak to him.  She cannot speak
English and he cannot speak her languages, which are "Latin, French
[and] Italian" [I.ii.66-67].  If Portia is an inhabitant of Ottoman
Montenegro then it seems odd that the languages that she speaks are
those which would be known to an educated Italian - and this alone
convinces me that Shakespeare thought of Belmont, however vaguely, as a
place located somewhere on the Italian mainland (it seems unlikely that
Belmont was in France) and thought of Portia as Italian.  The languages
that Portia speaks are the only textual evidence that I can present for
such a theory, but it seems to me (unless Ms. Amit can present evidence
of the use of "negro" and "Moor" as descriptions of Montenegrans) as
better than any textual evidence Ms. Amit presents for Montenegro.

Finally, however, we must admit that Belmont's location is of little
importance in Shakespeare's text, and is not described in a way that
would allow us ever to be certain of its actual geographical position -
if Shakespeare ever intended a real geographical location for his
fantasy.

Thomas Larque.

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