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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: October ::
Re: Leah and Merchant
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2403  Monday, 22 October 2001

[1]     From:   Geralyn Horton <
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        Date:   Friday, 19 Oct 2001 10:53:57 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2391 Re: Leah

[2]     From:   Louis Swilley <
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        Date:   Friday, 19 Oct 2001 12:56:53 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2398 Re: Merchant

[3]     From:   Graham Hall <
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        Date:   Friday, 19 Oct 2001 18:59:23 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2391 Let's Leaht alone

[4]     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Saturday, 20 Oct 2001 12:13:03 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2398 Re: Merchant

[5]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Saturday, 20 Oct 2001 16:04:00 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2391 Re: Leah


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Geralyn Horton <
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Date:           Friday, 19 Oct 2001 10:53:57 -0400
Subject: 12.2391 Re: Leah
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2391 Re: Leah

>Shylock would value the ring given to him by his dead wife
> before marriage above other treasures and that it would naturally go to
> their daughter.  Its being given to a monkey mocks his marriage and his
> love of his daughter.

Isn't it amazing that we can discus in such detail the emotional
resonances conjured up in us individually by this single reference?  Of
course it is what an actor does in learning a part: intuit a "backstory"
for all the words and objects that make up the world of the character.
For the actor, the proof of the intuition is in performance-- the
character is intensely alive all the way through, yet everything the
character does and says illuminates rather than distracts from the play
as a whole.

In further "backstory" for Jessica and the ring, I see a ring that "will
be yours when you marry the man I pick for you" rather than one that was
given to Jessica after her mother's death and is associated with
parental love. Presumably Leah gave the ring and her love to Shylock
freely, before a family contract "when I was a bachelor". But Shylock
has hardened, and has no intention of allowing his daughter such freedom
of giving. I place Leah's ring in one of the caskets, the one containing
other jewels that "will be Jessica's", its monetary value known to her
but not its sentimental value, which is known only to Shylock (and the
audience) Another casket contains household expense money, ducats.
Jessica ordinarily does not have access to these caskets.  They are
locked, and the cupboard they are in is locked -- as is the food store,
and everything else of value.  Shylock turns over these keys when he
goes out, fortuitously, and Jessica sees and seizes the opportunity.

Geralyn Horton, Newton, Mass. 02460
<http://www.stagepage.org>

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Louis Swilley <
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Date:           Friday, 19 Oct 2001 12:56:53 -0500
Subject: 12.2398 Re: Merchant
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2398 Re: Merchant

I confess I am getting confused by the remarks here about the issue of
the Law in "Merchant."  Is the expressed or implied position of the
current posters that there should be some *real* source in Venetian (or
other) Law for Portia's "legal" declarations after - or before, for that
matter - the "legal" escape of Antonio from  Shylock's deadly bond?
Isn't this "Law" and all its particulars Shakespeare's invention for the
consistent discussion of the issues of mercy and justice, forgiveness
and blame?  Should the "Law" of the play really be extrapolated to
consider how a Venetian might be dealt with who had:"by direct or
indirect attempts " sought the life of an *alien*?   Applying this kind
of thought to matters elsewhere in the play, might we not wonder why
Antonio sought elsewhere for his loan, or why, after the loss of his
argosy, he was not saved by loans from friends - or why this
possibility, fraught as it is with such delicious potential for
questioning the "Christianity" of these Christians, is never even
discussed in any part of the play?  And what shall we be allowed to say
about Portia's father who has set up so potentially dangerous a "test"
for suitors, a man whose will binds her to marry the man, saint or
devil, who selects the proper casket?  (What if the drunken German had
selected it on the grounds that it is the color of flasks in which his
drink is served?) .

No. The "Law" of this play is like the magic of MND and of "The Tempest"
- a fabrication for the purpose of elaborating the central argument,
which in "Merchant" is the need for mercy, and the dominant nobility of
Antonio's first pledging his life then his soul for his friend.

To seek beyond those internal explanations of "Law" in the play,
worrying Venetian history for "sources", is like questioning the
so-improbable success of Portia's "disguise" as Balthasar, or
questioning her grasp, in that disguise, of the procedures of a court
and of the law.

L. Swilley

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Hall <
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Date:           Friday, 19 Oct 2001 18:59:23 +0000
Subject: 12.2391 Let's Leaht alone.
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2391 Let's Leaht alone.

 Jane Drake Brody writes and a salad replies:

If she is not his wife, we are implying that Shakespeare just dropped
the name into the text with no reason to do so.[...]

No, I do not think anything is being implied. There are several reasons
why Leah could have been used by Shakespeare and they are to be found in
various essays and glosses. It would be tedious to repeat them here but
incorrect to dismiss them as Shakespeare doing a bit of name dropping -
not that he was adverse to that given that he sometimes may have
employed several for the same character.

Why on earth would he discuss "Leah" if she were not Jessica's mother?
[...]

Bill Godshalk covered one. Again, the literature offers others.

Or is there a missing play concerning Leah,[...]

The thread concerning LLW might yet provide an answer to that!

 [...] sister-in-law of Shylock.[...]

Any advances on this and the maiden aunt of a previous suggestion?

[...]It seems reasonable to assume, [...]

It does indeed, but no more so than several other reasonable
assumptions.

[...]that Shylock would value the ring given to him by his dead wife
[...]

Is she dead? It "seems reasonable to assume" cet par, that she could
well be alive.

[...]before marriage above other treasures and that it would naturally
go to their daughter [...]

There are a number of conjectures here that would require textual
support because they would indicate an altered dramatic focus and
characterization. I touched upon some in a thread of some months
previous.

Its being given to a monkey [..]

I prefer the Folio text on this one because it offers the opportunity
for Baz Luhrmann to show 

 

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