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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: October ::
Re: Leah and Merchant
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2431  Wednesday, 24 October 2001

[1]     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 23 Oct 2001 09:48:56 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2403 Re: Leah and Merchant

[2]     From:   Bruce Young <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 23 Oct 2001 17:29:35 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2418 Re: Leah and Merchant


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Tuesday, 23 Oct 2001 09:48:56 +0100
Subject: 12.2403 Re: Leah and Merchant
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2403 Re: Leah and Merchant

Louis Swilley asks

> 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?

Stephen Orgel's plenary paper "Shylock's tribe" at the Seventh World
Shakespeare Congress in Valencia on 22 April 2001 offered an answer to
this question: we are to infer that Antonio is already a known bad risk
among the Christian money lenders, hence his resort to the Jew.

Gabriel Egan

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bruce Young <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 23 Oct 2001 17:29:35 -0600
Subject: 12.2418 Re: Leah and Merchant
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2418 Re: Leah and Merchant

As has been amply argued, Leah could be just about anybody.  More often
than novels, plays (unless they're written by someone like Shaw, with
his long prefaces, afterwords, and stage directions) give us details
that are not fully explained--that we're expected to make sense of.
That means, of course, that multiple interpretations are not only
possible, but inevitable.  We have to do our best to make sense of the
details, perhaps in a way that will make the play more coherent,
resonant, and potent.  (But of course some playgoers may do their
interpreting with other aims in mind.)

In trying to make sense of the ring Leah gave Shylock, I notice a couple
of things, in addition to the many that have already been mentioned.
One is that Shylock, talking with Tubal, drops the name Leah and the
allusion to his having been a bachelor without further explanation
(except that he would not have given it in exchange for a wilderness of
monkeys).  This suggests (possibly) that Tubal knows who Shylock is
referring to and may even know something of Shylock's bachelorhood.

The other thing I notice is that this is not the only ring in the play.
The ring trick played by Portia and Nerissa makes the point (if I can be
reductive) that "men should not give away their wives' (or their
intended's) rings to someone else."  Since the ring Leah gave has been
given (or rather traded) away by Jessica, there's an obvious parallel,
and if the parallel is pursued, then the idea that Leah was Shylock's
wife or intended will present itself.

Shylock has already foreshadowed Bassanio and Gratiano's fault in giving
away the rings when he said: "These be the Christian husbands"
(4.1.295).  The context makes clear that he sees Christian husbands as
untrustworthy.  We might reasonably infer from this that Shylock thinks
Jewish husbands (like himself) would be more trustworthy.  Again, we may
be led to connect this sentiment with the ring given by Leah: unlike the
Christian husbands, Shylock would never have given it away.  And if this
says something about him as a Jewish husband, then Leah might, quite
naturally, be his wife.

Another way to put all of this is that, though we're never told who Leah
is, other details in the play set up patterns into which the turquoise
ring nicely fits, if Leah was Shylock's wife.

But nobody's forcing us to notice those details or follow their
implications.

Bruce Young

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