Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: January ::
Re: Shylock Redux
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0128  Monday, 27 January 2003

[1]     From:   Mike Jensen <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 24 Jan 2003 08:39:43 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0121 Re: Shylock Redux

[2]     From:   Frank Whigham <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 24 Jan 2003 12:16:41 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0121 Re: Shylock Redux

[3]     From:   Brian Willis <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 24 Jan 2003 11:15:46 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0121 Re: Shylock Redux

[4]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 24 Jan 2003 16:20:51 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.0109 Re: Shylock Redux

[5]     From:   Claude Caspar <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 24 Jan 2003 16:48:22 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0121 Re: Shylock Redux

[6]     From:   L. Swilley <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Saturday, 25 Jan 2003 08:51:15 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.096 Re: Shylock Redux

[7]     From:   L. Swilley <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Saturday, 25 Jan 2003 09:01:06 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.096 Re: Shylock Redux

[8]     From:   Carol Barton <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Saturday, 25 Jan 2003 20:49:10 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0121 Re: Shylock Redux


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 24 Jan 2003 08:39:43 -0800
Subject: 14.0121 Re: Shylock Redux
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0121 Re: Shylock Redux

With no pretense to knowledge about this myself, I wonder about Don's
comment:

>Antonio could also demand half of Shylock's vast wealth. He doesn't do
>that either. He asks that the one half be transferred to Shylock's
>daughter and her husband, and that the other half remain in his
>(Shylock's) possession (guaranteed to pass to the daughter and
>son-in-law at his death) -- provided he convert to Christianity.  Since
>the vast majority of Shakespeare's audience would consider conversion a
>benefit not a punishment, and since the money that Shylock lives for
>will remain either in his possession or that of his family, the judgment
>is extremely merciful, at least in the eyes of the author and the people
>he wrote for.

This strikes me as problematic in a world where conversion was more or
less coerced.  The phase of the Spanish Inquisition that put Galileo on
trial was instituted in 1542. The Index of Forbidden Books grew out of
that in 1559.  It was not easy, and sometimes not safe to be a Catholic
in England when this play was written.  The nation was more or less
forced to outwardly convert to the Church of England, or at least pay
fees.

I'm would not argue for *MoV* as an allegory, and certainly Don is
correct that many in the audience would consider Christianity (as they
understood it) to be superior to Judaism, but I can't help but wonder if
forced conversions might create more uneasy feelings than Don
acknowledges?

All the best,
Mike Jensen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Frank Whigham <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 24 Jan 2003 12:16:41 -0600
Subject: 14.0121 Re: Shylock Redux
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0121 Re: Shylock Redux

>>Nora Kreimer remarks, at the conclusion of
>>an otherwise very clear and balanced comment on the text,

>There is no mercy for Shylock at this court, as there was no
>mercy in
>his heart for Antonio. They're even. Through a trick in the
>interpretation of the law, the Jew was deprived of his ducats,
>his house
>and his right to be different.

>>I am afraid -- unless she is being ironic and I'm taking her too
>>seriously -- that this statement must baffle anyone with a clear
>>perception of the events in question.

I'm afraid the tiresome Sam Small problem is raising its head again
here. Don Bloom's assumption that his perception is both clear and
shared
by all right-thinking people makes sensible debate difficult, even if it
were possible to resolve this question (which seems to me generally to
get
answered by means of a priori assumptions about what it was possible for
people to think in the past).

Bloom has described Antonio's treatment of Shylock as tasteless insult,
but this is, to my eye, an unpleasant amelioration of what I take to be
patent bigotry: "You that did void your rheum upon my beard, / And foot
me as you spurn a stranger cur / Over your threshhold"; "I am as like .
. . to spit on thee again, to spurn thee too." Where does Bloom think
hate-filled rage such as Shylock exhibits comes from? To say "tut, tut;
that doesn't make it legitimate," seems to me quite to miss the point.
If you harm them they will revenge. The active Christian production of
such rage is what Shakespeare stages: Antonio is as smugly hate-filled
as Gratiano and Portia. (Or is Gratiano just tasteless too? I do grant
that Portia is more tasteful.) What can the explicit and confirmed acts
of spitting on and kicking Shylock mean? Mild disapproval? Stylistic
disagreement? A preference for velvet over gabardine? These acts seem to
me to be symbolic but physical and quite real examples of the violence
Lawrence Stone thought endemic to the culture ("the behavior of the
propertied classes, like that of the poor, was characterized by the
ferocity, childishness, and lack of self-control of the Homeric age":
The Crisis of the Aristocracy 223). Bassanio and his fellows would have
probably thought that having one's beard spat upon was a stabbing
offense; it certainly outranks biting the thumb. Regan plucks Gloster's
beard as a prelude to blinding him. This is serious stuff.

Shylock endures this habitually vicious treatment in effective isolation
(as the play stages it), and the characters' widespread resort to the
linguistic register of Christian anti-semitism suggests to me
Shakespeare's clear interest in the results of such cultural asymmetry.
That early modern playwrights were capable of recognizing this pattern
is suggested by Mother Sawyer's speech in The Witch of Edmonton:

     And why on me? Why should the envious world
     Throw all their scandalous malice upon me?
     'Cause I am poor, deformed, and ignorant,
     And like a bow buckl'd and bent together
     By some more strong in mischiefs than myself?
     Must I for that be made a common sink
     For all the filth and rubbish of men's tongues
     To fall and run into? Some call me witch,
     And being ignorant of myself, they go
     About to teach me how to be one; urging
     That my bad tongue, by their bad usage made so,
     Forespeaks their cattle, doth bewitch their corn,
     Themselves, their servants, and their babes at nurse.
     This they enforce upon me, and in part
     Make me to credit it.
                                                    (2.1.1-15)

Whether Shakespeare thought that anti-semitism is bad, as some of us do,
is not clear. I don't think I believe that it would have been widely
thought that Shylock had a "right" to be different (that is, Jewish:
Bloom's exasperated confusion about what Kreimer meant seems affected).
Nonetheless, that the play stages, in a highly provocative and thorny
way, some of its origins and effects does seem clear. That in turn makes
the trial scene and its result non-simple (as does this entire thread,
and critical history), and this effect seems to me more typical of
Shakespeare than the judgmental clarity Bloom hopes for.

It also seems important that early modern audiences were famously
varied, that their members thought many different things. (Shakespeare
is famed for having written to and for this audience.) Some surely
rejoiced in Shylock's destruction (oops; salvation), as Bloom does;
others surely also felt otherwise; I think it likely that some even
found it repellent, as I do. But whatever different things "we" think
about it, "Elizabethans" didn't much think one thing about anything
important, so far as I can tell, and so I find it exceedingly unlikely
that "they" agreed on Bloom's view.  The text pulls for several
different kinds of reaction, and gets them.  William Empson is
characteristically trenchant about the conservative tendency to extract
boot-licking morals from Shakespeare; Ponet if no one else shows that
early modern people were perfectly capable of what we now think of as
modern views. And I'm sure Shakespeare knew Marlowe.

The critical history of this issue is notoriously vexed, and we are not
going to dispose of it here on SHAKSPER. I'm no more likely to persuade
Bloom than his supposed sweet reason is me.

Frank Whigham

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Willis <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 24 Jan 2003 11:15:46 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 14.0121 Re: Shylock Redux
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0121 Re: Shylock Redux

>Nora Kreimer remarks, at the conclusion of an
>otherwise very clear and
>balanced comment on the text,
>
>>There is no mercy for Shylock at this court, as
>there was no mercy in
>>his heart for Antonio. They're even. Through a
>trick in the
>>interpretation of the law, the Jew was deprived of
>his ducats, his house
>>and his right to be different.
>
>I am afraid -- unless she is being ironic and I'm
>taking her too
>seriously -- that this statement must baffle anyone
>with a clear
>perception of the events in question.

I must respectfully agree. The Christians of the court think that they
are being overly generous in their mercy. From their point of view, they
are forgiving Shylock by giving back his money (turning the other cheek)
and allowing him to become Christian. It is Shylock alone who insists on
an eye for an eye.

Although I must admit that Nora probably means that this "mercy" by the
Christians is indeed no mercy at all from Shylock's point of view. The
quality of the mercy is indeed different when strained through different
cultural viewpoints. The harshness of the scene (and perhaps the point
at which we find it hard to forgive the "heroes" of this play and find
the utmost sympathy for Shylock) is in the fact that the Christians
oblivious be oblivious to the ramifications of the judgment and actually
believe that either they are doing Shylock good or that he is the
recipient of a tough practical joke rather than a life altering
decision.

Brian Willis

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 24 Jan 2003 16:20:51 -0400
Subject: 14.0109 Re: Shylock Redux
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.0109 Re: Shylock Redux

Nora Kreimer argues that Shylock is deprived of more than people usually
notice.

>I think that a scholarly debate on the plays should be based on the
>texts and not on faint recollections. Shylock is deprived not only of
>ALL his money, but also of his house in the ghetto in Venice, and forced
>to convert.
>
>  Shy.  Nay, take my life and all; pardon not that:
>You take my house when you do take the prop
>That doth sustain my house; you take my life
>When you do take the means whereby I live.

Surely Shylock's claim about being robbed of his house is a metaphor,
explaining how his money supports his life.

More importantly, doesn't this whole question of how merciful the
Christians are to Shylock a matter of interpretation, not of simple
literalism?  If it was just a matter of reading the play, we'd probably
all agree.

That there is room for interpretation, however, would imply that
whatever mercy Shylock is offered is relative.  He is offered the mercy
of men, not the absolute mercy which "droppeth as the gentle rains from
heaven".

Begging your pardon,
Sean.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Claude Caspar <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 24 Jan 2003 16:48:22 -0500
Subject: 14.0121 Re: Shylock Redux
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0121 Re: Shylock Redux

   Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath [II. vii 16]

In "A New Mimesis," Nuttall, for me one of the greatest of critics,
comments:

W. H. Auden in one of the most brilliant critical remarks of the century
observed that this requirement is met by two people in the play, neither
of whom is Bassanio.

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           L. Swilley <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Saturday, 25 Jan 2003 08:51:15 -0600
Subject: 14.096 Re: Shylock Redux
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.096 Re: Shylock Redux

>Martin Steward writes:
>
>>The reason a Jew is chosen to be the
>>main character...

To which, Ted Dykstra responds:

>Surely the main character of a play does not disappear with almost an
>hour of the story still to come? Shakespeare intended the main character
>to be Portia, unfortunately. Therein lies the problem with the play. Who
>wants to see the rest of it after whatever actor playing Shylock has
>wiped the stage with everyone else?

[Since the play is an *organism*, each character is equal to every other
as a *perspective* by means of which the whole play may be understood,
although it is clear that simple quantity of lines by and about this
character or that should establish his/her "main-ness" or no, and will
therefore be the most inviting for analysis of the whole work, since
easier to work with.]

 [L. Swilley]

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           L. Swilley <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Saturday, 25 Jan 2003 09:01:06 -0600
Subject: 14.096 Re: Shylock Redux
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.096 Re: Shylock Redux

>Max Gutmann <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 > writes,
>
>>A villain's ending is always happy to the hero. In what way, other than
>>that, does Shylock's ending seem happy?

To which, John Kennedy responds,

>From the viewpoint of Shakespeare's audience, he is baptized, and
>consequently his soul is saved.  (A rather naive notion even from a
>Christian viewpoint, but there it is....)

 [Naive, indeed, and all unwarranted when we consider the
"unsatisfactory" endings of "Tempest,"  "Taming, " and perhaps "Lear"
and "Hamlet," among others.  A Shylock forced to act against his own
faith and conscience in order to save his money and perhaps his life
could not be a picture acceptable to Shakespeare's or any audience, and
certainly not to the Shakespeare we see in the plays mentioned above. ]

[L. Swilley]

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Barton <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Saturday, 25 Jan 2003 20:49:10 -0500
Subject: 14.0121 Re: Shylock Redux
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0121 Re: Shylock Redux

>Nora Kreimer remarks, at the conclusion of an otherwise very clear and
>balanced comment on the text,
>
>>There is no mercy for Shylock at this court, as there was no mercy in
>>his heart for Antonio. They're even. Through a trick in the
>>interpretation of the law, the Jew was deprived of his ducats, his house
>>and his right to be different.
>
>I am afraid -- unless she is being ironic and I'm taking her too
>seriously -- that this statement must baffle anyone with a clear
>perception of the events in question. At the beginning of this scene,
>Shylock is attempting to have Antonio judicially murdered over money he
>doesn't need and that Bassanio (that is, Portia) could pay on the spot.
>For unadulterated viciousness I find this hard to top. To match it,
>Antonio would have to demand that Shylock have his heart cut out in
>front of all of them. Antonio could, in fact, have demanded something
>very like it, but he doesn't.
>
>Antonio could also demand half of Shylock's vast wealth. He doesn't do
>that either. He asks that the one half be transferred to Shylock's
>daughter and her husband, and that the other half remain in his
>(Shylock's) possession (guaranteed to pass to the daughter and
>son-in-law at his death) -- provided he convert to Christianity.  Since
>the vast majority of Shakespeare's audience would consider conversion a
>benefit not a punishment, and since the money that Shylock lives for
>will remain either in his possession or that of his family, the judgment
>is extremely merciful, at least in the eyes of the author and the people
>he wrote for.
>
>And one piece of Hawkery: what on earth is "his right to be different"?
>
>Cheers,
>don

Don, if you recall that the Old Testament represents the LAW  (sans
mercy), justice, not ethics, you will see what Nora is referring to.
Shylock is demanding no more than Antonio promised---the LAW, which as a
Jew is all he has to protect him---if nothing else, this play certainly
demonstrates that there is no "mercy" in Christendom for Shylock. And
what gives Shylock the right to demand that pound of flesh nearest
Antonio's heart? A rash promise from a stupid, self-righteous man who
would do anything to help or please his beloved (I am not going to get
into "beloved" in what way) Bassanio, made in the heat of desire, and
not very circumspectly. Shylock's insistence that Antonio pay his due is
both superficially vengeful and comedically ironic---Antonio is
victimized by his victim, betrayed by a Jew, just as Antonio and the
other anti-Semitic "good Christians" who stereotype every Jew as a
betrayer of Our Lord might expect him to be---so if Shylock is no more
than Antonio and Bassanio secretly perceive him to be---a Jew
traitor---why do they do business with him under the pretense of
friendship? If he is not---if he is the man who elicits Nora's sympathy,
and my own---what fools these Christians be, to betray their own vile
hypocrisy in but "serving him to serve their turn upon him."

I don't think it's as neat, or as easy, as you seem to want to force it
into being . . . what Nora calls "his right to be different" is his
right to religious toleration for believing something other than the
Christians believe, and for being something their "scruples" prevent
them from being, but not from making use of (much as the Amish in this
area drive their horse-drawn wagons, but have Mennonite friends who
employ computers in behalf of their business enterprises.

Much-revered Handsaw, where are you?

Best to all,
Carol Barton


_______________________________________________________________
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, 
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the
opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the
editor assumes no responsibility for them.
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.