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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: August ::
Re: Denouements of Forgiveness and Gender
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1624  Monday, 18 August 2003

[1]     From:   Annalisa Castaldo <
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        Date:   Friday, 15 Aug 2003 10:27:47 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1620 Re: Denouements of Forgiveness and Gender

[2]     From:   David Wallace <
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        Date:   Sunday, 17 Aug 2003 17:54:09 -0700
        Subj:   Re: Denouements of Forgiveness and Gender


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Annalisa Castaldo <
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Date:           Friday, 15 Aug 2003 10:27:47 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 14.1620 Re: Denouements of Forgiveness and Gender
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1620 Re: Denouements of Forgiveness and Gender

Donald Jellerson writes:

"The resolution of MV is dependent on the quality in Portia that is
absent in Shylock: mercy.  Perhaps the question of which kind of love
"trumps" the other is arguable?"

I agree to a large extent with this and your other points; certainly for
the audience there is an entirely different quality to the ending of MV
and TGV. Looking more carefully through the play, I also noticed that
Portia does not actually give up her power, although she claims she is
turning over everything to Bassanio. It is she who urges him to offer 3x
the bond to save Antonio, she who decides his plan of action and her
decision on who will look after the estate while she is away.

So what we experience is a strong, intelligent woman used to running a
wealthy estate, and willing to forgive her husband for failing a test in
loyalty that she engineered anyway.

And yet...

I can't entirely escape from the cultural contexts of the play, which
dictate that the forgiveness will probably be Portia's last use of her
power. And unlike Portia, I can't quite forgive Bassanio for rather
blatantly using the codes of romantic love to get himself out of a
financial jam. To me, he and Shylock end up on the same moral plane,
with Antonio one step above (as narrow minded about difference as the
other two, but at least more generous). So I don't feel that Bassanio
(and by extension Gratanio) deserves his forgiveness, even though I
admire Portia for offering it.

Annalisa Castaldo

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Wallace <
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Date:           Sunday, 17 Aug 2003 17:54:09 -0700
Subject:        Re: Denouements of Forgiveness and Gender

Donald Jellerson writes:

"My proposition is that, in the TGV denouement, heterosexual
relationships... seem to take a clear back seat to male
friendship...(But in MV) women are given a different kind of agency in
the resolution than in that of TGV. In some measure, then, can't we see
MV as a revision of the earlier play? Isn't it fair to say that
Shakespeare is working out the way to bring off romantic comedy?

At the risk of being facile, how about this... Shakespeare starts with
TGV, perhaps a failed experiment, but certainly a proving ground for
many of the motifs he will later use to better effect. The ending,
however, with its interchangeable women and clear subjugation of
heterosexual love to the homosocial, stands in need of development...In
the later comedies, male friendship will come up again, but never in
such a prominent plot position (in direct, sustained thematic opposition
to heterosexual love). Women, however, will retain their position in the
romantic comedies as those who practice Christlike forgiveness."

I've abbreviated your argument (above) but not, I hope, distorted it. I
had argued that the women in TMoV neither possess nor obtain any real
power - though they certainly are the agency through which the conflict
is resolved. I agree, their lack of social power does not diminish your
argument. I suppose I'm unsatisfied with the link you are making between
these two plays because I don't really see Portia forgiving Bassanio
with the same astonishing open-handedness that Valentine offers Proteus.
Portia offers a "contract", not forgiveness. She uses Antonio as
collateral just as Shylock did. This is too disturbingly ironic for me
to see her as the agency of unadulterated forgiveness.

Further, your argument seems premised on the notion that the resolution
in TGV is, to some degree, a failed experiment that finds its solution
in TMoV. But what if TGV isn't a precursor to the romantic comedies?
What if we consider it one of the "problem plays"? Leaving aside gender,
for a moment, does the ending not make us uncomfortable in the same sort
of way that All's Well makes us uncomfortable?

Certainly the thematic opposition of male friendship and heterosexual
love is prominent in these two plays in a way they are not elsewhere -
but I don't see that this similarity is sufficient to establish a
pattern of women who practice "Christlike forgiveness" in the other
romantic comedies. Indeed, where are those women extending this sort of
forgiveness? Beatrice is ready to eat Claudio's heart in the
marketplace. The hapless Hero seems too pliant to be anything but
grateful. Who is it Olivia must forgive, besides herself? What must
Viola forgive beyond Orsino's nearsightedness? Certainly Imogen is a
good example of the argument you are making. Hermione, perhaps. But if
you are extending your argument to all the comedies, romances, the
"problem plays" (divide them how you will) - I think there are as many
counter-examples as there are parallels. Where is the pattern?

I think a tension between "homosocial" love and heterosexual love is
notable in several plays. (Oberon's argument with Titania springs to
mind.) I just don't see a consistent pattern. And where such tensions
exist, I don't see that the resolutions can trace their origins through
the route you've suggested. I have, however, very much enjoyed reading
and reflecting upon your thoughts on the subject. Please don't let my
objections discourage you. I am an enthusiast, not a scholar. I am
intrigued by your argument even if I remain unconvinced.


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