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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: November ::
Re: Merchant
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2536  Friday, 2 November 2001

From:           Bruce Young <
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Date:           Thursday, 01 Nov 2001 16:29:48 -0700
Subject: 12.2524 Re: Merchant
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2524 Re: Merchant

Bill Godshalk interprets Dave Evett as arguing (in Godshalk's words)
that "Shylock is a kind of anti-Jacob, a Jacob who marries Leah for her
money (not by mistake), and never falls in love with Rachel. Once he
gets the heiress, he's satisfied, and his reference to Leah's ring is
not sentimental, but financial.  His later, pejorative reference to
Christian husbands is, then, mere hypocrisy.  Shylock, like Bassanio,
has married for money, not love."

But if the reference to Leah's ring "is not sentimental, but financial,"
why does Shylock say he would not have given it "for a wilderness of
monkeys"?  Surely, a wilderness of monkeys could be exchanged for a lot
more money than a turquoise ring.  He could have turned quite a profit.

I think the answer is that the reference to the ring IS sentimental, the
pejorative reference to Christian husbands is not "mere hypocrisy," and
there's good reason to think that Shylock didn't marry just for money.
I acknowledge that there's a strong counterargument (namely, that money
seems to count more than personal relationships for Shylock), but I
don't find it strong enough to change my view.  For one thing, the
counterargument oversimplifies Shylock's character: even as we see him
in the play, I would argue, Shylock is not driven exclusively by money.
And perhaps one implication of Leah's ring is that there was a time
(pre-play) when personal relationships counted more for Shylock.
Shylock as we see him is Shylock as he has become, not necessarily as he
has always been.

For those who claim that play characters have no discernible content, I
would add that these speculations about Shylock are ones that arise as a
result of thinking about the words in the text and trying to make sense
of them.  Of course, there's no definitive "life of Shylock" out there
to check the speculations against.

Bruce Young

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