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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: February ::
Bassanio
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0243  Monday, 7 February 2005

[1]     From:   Annalisa Castaldo <
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        Date:   Friday, 4 Feb 2005 14:22:15 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0237 Bassanio

[2]     From:   Steve Sohmer <
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        Date:   Friday, 4 Feb 2005 15:54:35 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0237 Bassanio

[3]     From:   Frank Whigham <
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        Date:   Friday, 04 Feb 2005 19:05:24 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0237 Bassanio


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Annalisa Castaldo <
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Date:           Friday, 4 Feb 2005 14:22:15 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 16.0237 Bassanio
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0237 Bassanio

I agree. Bassanio is also a problematic character because he is quite
clear in Act 1 that he is wooing Portia as a way out of financial
difficulties. Thus when he picks the right casket the play appears to
validate marriage as mainly a business transaction (at least from the
male's side; Portia seems to have fallen in love with Bassanio).

Annalisa Castaldo

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Sohmer <
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Date:           Friday, 4 Feb 2005 15:54:35 EST
Subject: 16.0237 Bassanio
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0237 Bassanio

Dear Friends,

I hasten to assure Alan Pierpoint that Bassanio is a bum. He's a
self-confessed gigolo (Folio TLN 170) who bets his best friend's fortune
(and, ultimately, his life) on winning a wealthy orphan maid, she who is
chafing under her dead father's tyrannous interdict and who loathes
foreigners. Bassanio's sidekick, Gratiano, is a mean-spirited Jewbaiter.
Lorenzo is just as bad. He's a thief and a spendthrift, and Jessica ends
up sorry she married him, e.g. "I am never merrie when I heare sweet
musicke," (2481). These three dysfunctional jerks get just what they
deserve: women who will lead them around by their rings.

Against the cyclorama of these young and venal Venetian wastrels is
played the deadly racial hatred of Antonio and Shylock. We have to
remember that the admirable Antonio spit in Shylock's beard and. what's
more, he kicked and ridiculed him (445-6; Antonio doesn't deny any of
it). We have to remember that Shylock fully intends to take Antonio's
life; Jessica overheard her father confide so much to Tubal (1641-5).
But it is only from Antonio and Shylock that we hear the genuine love
beats in the play. Truly, Antonio loves Bassanio. And Shylock loved his
late wife, Leah; there is tremendous pathos and anguish when he says, "I
would not have given it [Leah's ring] for a wildernesse of Monkies"
(1332-3).

Whether Antonio and Bassanio are gay lovers is rather beside the point.
What Shakespeare is conveying is that Antonio loves (bum) Bassanio far
more than a wise man should. Indeed, Bassanio loves Portia's money
before he loves her (if ever). Portia is disposed to marry Bassanio
because she once glanced at him back when. Nerissa marries Gratiano
after the two have barely said hello. And we wonder how Jessica and
Lorenzo could have gotten to know one another, given that she lives in
the Ghetto. Throughout the play there's much talk about justice,
justice, justice; love and justice have this in common -- they're blind.
And this is the subtext haunting each character in MV.

For only one moment does any character rise to a high moral tone -- in
Portia's "quality of mercy" speech (2095-). The rest of "The Comicall
Historie of the Merchant of Venice" (Q1 A2v) is a murky, corrupt morass;
Shakespeare wrote a dark, if not black, comedy. A comedy for grown-ups.

Hope this helps.

Steve

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Frank Whigham <
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Date:           Friday, 04 Feb 2005 19:05:24 -0600
Subject: 16.0237 Bassanio
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0237 Bassanio

Alan Pierpoint <
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 >Does anyone else out there find the character of Bassanio as problematic
 >as I do?
 >
 >Supposedly his choice of the lead casket-his decision to "choose not by
 >the view," vindicates both Portia's correct values and her dead father's
 >judgment in devising the test.  However, the homosexual subtext in the
 >play is as strong as could have slipped by the Master of Revels, and in
 >that context, isn't Bassanio, well, a bit of a whore?  Is there a good
 >critical source for the above-mentioned subtext?

Plenty; see Hyman, Lawrence. "The Rival Lovers in The Merchant of
Venice." Shakespeare Quarterly 21 (1970): 109-16. A crucial essay.

See also:

Midgely, Graham. "The Merchant of Venice: A Reconsideration." EIC 10
(1960): 119-33 (the earliest piece touching [implicitly] on this I know).

Pequigney, Joseph. "The Two Antonies and Same-Sex Love in The Tempest
and The Merchant of Venice ." ELR 22 (1992): 201-21.

Cf. also Antonio in Twelfth Night.

Frank Whigham

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