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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: February ::
Bassanio
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0252  Tuesday, 8 February 2005

[1]     From:   Peter Bridgman <
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        Date:   Monday, 7 Feb 2005 13:01:39 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0243 Bassanio

[2]     From:   John Drakakis <
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        Date:   Monday, 7 Feb 2005 13:39:56 -0000
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.0243 Bassanio

[3]     From:   David Basch <
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        Date:   Monday, 07 Feb 2005 11:12:34 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0237 Bassanio

[4]     From:   David Lindley <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 8 Feb 2005 09:53:32 -0000
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.0243 Bassanio


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Bridgman <
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Date:           Monday, 7 Feb 2005 13:01:39 -0000
Subject: 16.0243 Bassanio
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0243 Bassanio

Steve Sohmer writes ...

 >And we wonder how Jessica and
 >Lorenzo could have gotten to know one another, given that she lives in
 >the Ghetto.

She doesn't in the play.  As Shakespeare's Venice contains no canals, it
is quite likely he was unaware of the ghetto.

Peter Bridgman

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Drakakis <
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Date:           Monday, 7 Feb 2005 13:39:56 -0000
Subject: 16.0243 Bassanio
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.0243 Bassanio

Steve Sohmer's 'commonsense' approach to the play has much to recommend
it, but Bassanio is only a 'problem' if we think of him in post-Romantic
terms. Of course, money is an issue in his pursuit of Portia.  It's an
issue with other male lovers in the Comedies: Petrucchio, Claudio (in
Much Ado).  The trouble with this play is that there is another aspect
to the 'money' question that the Antonio-Shylock plot represents. I
don't want to rule out a homosexual attraction between Bassanio and
Antonio, although the figure of Ansaldo in one of the 'sources' behaves
more in the manner of a father than a 'lover'. There is an issue in the
play concerned with male and female friendship and this is clearly a
fault line that many commentators and theatre directors have tried to
unravel. The question is: how erotic is the relationship between Antonio
and Bassanio? The matter becomes problematical in relation to the
question of 'breeding' i.e. the production of progeny versus the
production of material wealth. There is also the question of Bassanio's
social status.  He is a 'Lord' and Antonio is a 'merchant'; the one is
an aristocrat and the other is bourgeois: Bassanio 'lives off' Antonio,
and he engages in conspicuous consumption without producing the
conditions of his own existence.(See, for example the tension between
Lord Lacey and Sir Thomas Otley in Dekker's The Shoemaker's Holiday
where the antagonism between the two classes is clear). If we add to
that Antonio's vitriolic hatred of the very figure upon whom he is
forced to rely to finance his own speculative ventures, then we have a
very tangled narrative indeed.

I'm happy with Steve's designation of this as a 'problem' play, and I
think his evaluation of Bassanio isn't too far off the mark, but the
focus on 'character' here seems to me to detract from the more complex
questions that this play opens up and never quite manages to resolve.

Cheers,
John Drakakis

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Basch <
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Date:           Monday, 07 Feb 2005 11:12:34 -0500
Subject: 16.0237 Bassanio
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0237 Bassanio

Steve Sohmer misunderstands the action in the Merchant of Venice when he
writes as follows:

      We have to remember that Shylock fully intends to take
      Antonio's life; Jessica overheard her father confide so
      much to Tubal (1641-5).

If you follow the action, Shylock had cemented relations with Bassanio
and Antonio through the loan he gave and was even going to attend a
feast with them. There is no hostility between the sides at that time
and this anger and expressions of revenge only begin after Jessica elopes.

So what about Jessica's testimony about Shylock's plot? It is an example
of false witness by Jessica who wants to ingratiate herself with her new
friends. This is the same Jessica who robs her father and is profligate
with the stolen money.

Similarly, Steve Sohmers misinterprets the meaning of Jessica's "I am
never merry when I hear sweet music." Her husband, Lorenzo, moments
later points out

                 The man that hath no music in himself,
         Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
         Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;

This is an apt description of his new wife, Jessica, and is
Shakespeare's way of belatedly spilling the beans on her treasonous
false testimony. This is one of many revelations that the poet gives
about Shylock's enemies in the last scene, which careless scholars often
overlook.

David Basch

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Lindley <
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Date:           Tuesday, 8 Feb 2005 09:53:32 -0000
Subject: 16.0243 Bassanio
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.0243 Bassanio

Two things:

1. Annalisa Castaldo writes:

 >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.

This, one suspects, would cause far less problem to a sixteenth century
audience than it does to a modern one. A perfectly sensible economic
motive would not necessarily exclude the possibility of love - the ideal
match satisfied both imperatives.

2.  Steve Sohmer writes:

 >Jessica ends up sorry she married him, e.g. "I am never
 >merrie when I heare sweet musicke," (2481).

This is, I think, a misreading of the line.  In standard musical theory
of the period different kinds of music provoked different kinds of
response.  To be 'merry' when one hears 'sweet' music would be to
respond inappropriately to the hymn for which Lorenzo calls; the
beginning of the scene turns on the nature of music and of response to
it. I'm not convinced that Jessica is here rejecting the music, rather
registering an appropriate sensitivity to its solemnity.

David Lindley

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