Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: December ::
Jewish Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.2108  Tuesday, 14 December 2004

[1]     From:   Larry Weiss <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Monday, 13 Dec 2004 17:59:41 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.2097 Jewish Shakespeare

[2]     From:   David Basch <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Monday, 13 Dec 2004 21:02:58 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 15.2097 Jewish Shakespeare

[3]     From:   Tom Krause <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Monday, 13 Dec 2004 23:39:15 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 15.2084 Jewish Shakespeare

[4]     From:   Tony Burton <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 14 Dec 2004 07:54:34 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.2097 Jewish Shakespeare


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Monday, 13 Dec 2004 17:59:41 -0500
Subject: 15.2097 Jewish Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.2097 Jewish Shakespeare

Upon closer analysis, I find that Antonio's offer is even more generous
than I had thought.  My analysis is that his speech at ll.381-85 should
be construed as follows:

"To quit the fine for one-half of his goods. I am content [i.e., I
consent that the state may remit its half]  so he will let me have The
other half in use [if he makes me trustee of the other half], to render
it Upon his death unto the gentleman That lately stole his daughter [so
that I can be sure of giving the remainder interest to Lorenzo when
Shylock dies].

Under this view, Shylock keeps legal title and possession of half his
property and grants a trust over the rest, with the remainder to
Lorenzo.  What is not specified is who receives the income in the trust
for the balance of Shylock's life.  Presumably, Antonio will get that,
but it is less than the legal title to the property which the statute
would have given him.

The additional requirement that Shylock make a present gift to Lorenzo
and Jessica of all he will own at his death is not redundant, as it
would include the half remitted by the state as well as any appreciation
his thrift earns.  Nor does this deed render the trust unnecessary, as
the trust assures Lorenzo and Jessica that half the assets cannot be
dissipated to defeat their expectation and also provides income to
Antonio.  (At this stage, Antonio is presumed to be penniless.)

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Basch <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Monday, 13 Dec 2004 21:02:58 -0500
Subject: Jewish Shakespeare
Comment:        SHK 15.2097 Jewish Shakespeare

Re: Jewish Shakespeare discussion

Much of Monday's comment (12.13.04) on the "Jewish Shakespeare" issue
were interesting and worthy of rejoinder to advance our discussion. I
take them below one by one.

Stuart Manger wrote:

     [a] if the name of Portia is so pejorative,
     (Abigail Quart) why does he give her the same name
     as the heroic, stoic wife of Brutus in 'JC'? A name
     well-known as a by-word for honour by Elizabethan
     audiences?

I believe Shakespeare chose the name Portia because it did have a
pedigree of virtue known to his audience. He expected his audiences to
be influenced by her name and to overlook her obvious personal flaws
which would otherwise be most apparent. It is part of Shakespeare's
ingenious design of this play that it leaves open the path of his
audiences to indulge their biases against the Jew in the story and to be
blindly partial toward Shylock's enemies. (A further explanation of the
how and why of this I will soon send to the list.)

D Bloom takes note of someone's mentioning that the name Portia could
derive from "porcinus," a Latin word for pig. Shakespeare was very
thoughtful about the names he selects for his characters since they at
times convey telltale signs of his meaning. That "Portia" could derive
from "pig" in Latin suggests that this too is an aspect of her
character. Note how rich in allusion the name is, including a Hebrew
pedigree from the Biblical name PoRaT, "frutiful," a name contained in
the Hebrew word for "lead," OPheReT, which contains the name PoRaT.

Larry Weiss not only chooses not to respond to comment but wishes to
close off further discussion by alleging that my points are "patently
wrong" and need to be drummed out of further discussion on the list. It
is his right to think as he wishes but he should not presume for others.
I am always willing to be proven wrong in my assertions but that has not
happened. I think members of the list will find the unraveling of the
mysteries of The Merchant of Venice revelatory of Shakespeare's
meaning-a boon to the world -- and of Shakespeare himself.

JD Markel provides a fine and thorough analysis of Shylock's punishment.
Most audiences assume that Shylock's punishment was merciful since his
opponents proclaim it to be so. But if the text is read carefully, we
find that Antonio got 50% outright and that 50% was initially assigned
to the state. But at this point the Duke adds the line, "Which
humbleness may drive unto a fine." Does this line refer to both parts of
the penalty or just to the state's half? Portia settles this issue when
she jumps in and asserts that the "fine" portion should only pertain to
the state's share since the Duke meant it for both portions.

Asked by the Duke what his mercy can do, Antonio's response is as follows:

         So please my lord the duke and all the court
         To quit the fine for one half of his goods,
         I am content; so he will let me have
         The other half in use, to render it,
         Upon his death, unto the gentleman
         That lately stole his daughter:

It appears that Antonio, responding to the Duke, is willing to go along
with Portia's suggestion and hence notes his willingness to take his
half of the "fine" as suggested by Portia but on condition that the
other half be "quit" as a "fine" if it is used by him so that it can be
rendered to "the gentleman / That lately stole his daughter." In other
words, Shylock lost all.

The issue is raised as to what then does Shylock bequeath in his will if
all his material wealth is lost? Scholar Edna Krane seeing that Shylock
was beggared, offered a solution to this, namely, the one thing that
remained with Shylock (which will be presented as part of an article
soon to be submitted to the list). Below is Antonio's full recommendation:

      ANTONIO:
      So please my lord the duke and all the court
      To quit the fine for one half of his goods,
      I am content; so he will let me have
      The other half in use, to render it,
      Upon his death, unto the gentleman
      That lately stole his daughter:
      Two things provided more, that, for this favour,
      He presently become a Christian;
      he other, that he do record a gift,
      Here in the court, of all he dies possess'd,
      Unto his son Lorenzo and his daughter.

To sum up, Shakespeare provides ambiguity in his treatment of Shylock's
penalty. For those who wish to assume that the judgement could be called
merciful, they jump on a half of a half of the state's portion to be
given to Shylock, which thus "quits" the fine, with the other quarter
used by Antonio till Shylock's death. But a deeper analysis shows that
when the Duke spoke of a "fine" he referred to the entire estate, both
halves. That means that Antonio must be referring to his part of the
fine, which he gets outright in accordance with Portia's recommendation,
and then he refers to the other part, the state's part, which he asks to
use until after Shylock's death-a complete ripoff of Shylock.

Only if you choose to ignore the subtle fact that at the outset the
entire estate is proposed by the Duke as a fine, which is why Portia
spoke up to cut a half for Antonio, can you then see the state's half
remaining to be cut in two, with one part for Shylock, feeding the idea
that there was some mercy in this judgement.

JD Markel notes many of these ambiguities in his discussion and
concludes as I do-along with numerous other commentators, I might
add-that Shylock was treated mercilessly.

David Basch

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Krause <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Monday, 13 Dec 2004 23:39:15 -0500
Subject: Jewish Shakespeare
Comment:        SHK 15.2084 Jewish Shakespeare

Larry Weiss writes:

"Therefore, to prevent this post from becoming another thread like the
late unlamented "monetary debasement in Measure For Measure," in which
two pertinacious members pugnaciously withstood the logic of the
champion of the rest of us, I shall not respond further unless serious
members of the list indicate that they are convinced by Mr. Basch."

You've certainly shown yourself to be a worthy successor of your late,
unlamented "champion" from the MFM thread (whose ramshackle arguments in
that thread are classified and refuted at
http://www.shaksper.net/archives/2004/1894.html), in that you (1) are
absolutely sure that you are right about matters of textual
interpretation, and (2) will only entertain the theories of others if
they are able to "convince" "serious members of the list" (whoever those
are) that they are right. This all-or-nothing position seems to me to be
an even more extreme approach to Shakespeare scholarship (an inherently
ambiguous undertaking with plenty of middle ground) than the theory that
Shakespeare was Jewish. My original impression of Shylock's penalty was
pretty much the same as yours, but David Basch and now J.D. Markel have
shown that there is an ambiguity in the language that might be worth
exploring. Why don't you just relax and explore it with them?

Tom Krause

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tony Burton <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Tuesday, 14 Dec 2004 07:54:34 -0500
Subject: 15.2097 Jewish Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.2097 Jewish Shakespeare

The trial scene in Merchant is complicated beyond any confident
interpretation, and JD Markel's reading and focus on the word "so" is a
reasonable one.  But I take a different view, concentrating on "use" as
the key ambiguity in the passage quoted.

ANTONIO:
So please my lord the duke and all the court
To quit the fine for one half of his goods,
I am content; so he will let me have
The other half in use, to render it,
Upon his death, unto the gentleman
That lately stole his daughter:
Two things provided more, that, for this favour,
He presently become a Christian;
he other, that he do record a gift,
Here in the court, of all he dies possess'd,
Unto his son Lorenzo and his daughter.

The "use" was an early legal device much like a trust.  Legal title to
property was held by a quasi-trustee, called a "feofee to uses," and for
the benefit of beneficiary called a "cestui que trust" Historically the
use was employed for real property only and, although Shylock presumably
owned his home, what we know of the laws of Venice limiting his
occupation to money-lending (or medicine, or used clothes dealing) makes
it likely that his assets were really in cash and personal property.  I
imagine the audience is expected to overlook this distinction.

So, the first question is, Was Antonio requesting Shylock to sign a deed
of use making him the cestui or the feofee?  The words "let me have"
suggests that he has legal title for someone's else's benefit and that
he will be the one "to render it" to Lorenzo and Jessica when Shylock
dies.  That would leave him, unaware that any of his ships are safe,
believing himself a complete bankrupt.  Since in my reading he undergoes
a sort of epiphany at the trial in which he learns to accept the risks
of an uncertain future as part of the Christian life, it is not only
plausible but essential for him to do so.  My reasons for seeing the
moment as an epiphany and a real willingness to face future financial
risk (yes, of course, Bassanio and Portia won't let him starve) are too
long to include here, in a discussion limited to the legal significance
of this troublesome passage.

To be sure, the same passage can quite reasonably be read to mean that
Antonio expects to be the cestui que use, and wishes to receive the
fruits of Shylock's assets, i.e., the income from his business.  That
seems to mean he plans to receive and live on the proceeds of the only
business Shylock knows, lending at interest or, usury.  I consider that
unacceptable in the context, and a very dark irony that flies in the
face of everything that follows.

In either event, Shylock seems to end up with ALL his assets intact,
half in use for Antonio (but available as capital and security for
business generally) and half free and clear, but all going to Lorenzo
and Jessica at death.  Certainly, Shylock is still referred to as "rich"
in the last act, when Lorenzo and Jessica learn about their financial
windfall.  As for himself, Antonio might have stipulated that Shylock
deed his property to, say, the Duke as feoffee to the use of Antonio,
but he didn't.  Alll we can do is to work with Shakespeare's words and
try to figure out exactly what terms of settlement  Shylock was
"content" to accept.

Since "fine" can signify any final disposition of a matter in dispute,
the word here seems simply to highlight Antonio's terms as the last word
on all unresolved legal issues, once Shylock accepts them (especially
once the Duke adds his persuasive threat to reinstate the death penalty
if Shylock does not).

Cheers,
Tony Burton

_______________________________________________________________
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.