The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1602 Wednesday, 13 August 2003
Date: Tuesday, 12 Aug 2003 07:42:33 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 14.1589 Denouements of Forgiveness and Gender
Comment: Re: SHK 14.1589 Denouements of Forgiveness and Gender
This pattern of reversal seems like reasonable, except that I don't find
that the ending of MV, or the play as a whole, presents men who value
women more than other men. I'm open to the idea that the world of the
play values the women more than in TGV (Portia is a more individuated
and powerful character than anyone in TGV). But look at the way women
are presented by the men, especially Bassanio, the supposed romantic
Bassanio describes her as "a lady richly left" and suggests that she
favors him "Sometimes from her eyes/I did receive fair speechless
messages." The rest of his discussion with Antonio is how, if he had the
money to woo her, he is sure he would win her (tellingly calling himself
another Jason after another Golden Fleece) and so pay off his debts.
(The other romantic story, Lorenzo and Jessica, also involves money,
since they feel the need to rob Shylock as well as elope.)
The final scene is the most telling, I believe. After winning Antonio's
freedom, the disguised Portia asks for Bassanio's wedding ring, which he
gives her on Antonio's urging, placing his friend's desires and the
wishes of another (apparent) man above his oath to his new wife. When
they return to Belmont, Portia and Nerissa first pretend that they
believe their husbands have given the rings to other women and then
claim to have slept with those same men who asked for the rings.
As far as the men in the play know, the relationships they have are
exactly those of TGV--male friendship trumps romantic love, women are
indistinguishable (both plays have lovers completely unable to recognize
their women), and the only power women have is their value, both
monetary worth and virtue. And although it may be meant as just amusing
wordplay, I find Bassanio and Gratiano's evident delight at the idea
that they get men as well as women to sleep with a bit bizzare.
Bassanio: Sweet doctor, you shall be my bedfellow/When I am absent, then
lie with my wife.
Gratianio: But were the day come, I should wish it dark/ Till I were
couching with the doctor's clerk.
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