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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: February ::
Bassanio
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0267  Thursday, 10 February 2005

[1]     From:   Kristen McDermott <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 8 Feb 2005 13:07:11 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.0252 Bassanio

[2]     From:   Geralyn Horton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 8 Feb 2005 13:36:49 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0252 Bassanio

[3]     From:   Steve Sohmer <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 8 Feb 2005 13:52:24 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0252 Bassanio

[4]     From:   William Godshalk <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 08 Feb 2005 14:17:41 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0252 Bassanio

[5]     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 9 Feb 2005 08:20:15 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0252 Bassanio


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kristen McDermott <
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Date:           Tuesday, 8 Feb 2005 13:07:11 -0500
Subject: 16.0252 Bassanio
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.0252 Bassanio

I'm glad David Lindley reminded us of the complexity of early modern
responses to music:

"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."

This immediately reminded me that the motif of physical (even humoral)
responses to music recurs at several times in the play - Shylock's
reference to men who, upon hearing bagpipes, "cannot contain their
urine," as well as his memorable injunction to Jessica to shut up his
house's ears against the "sound of shallow fopp'ry" associated with the
Carnival music outside, lest it draw her to the window.  Portia's
complex monologue (3.2.44-53) considers at length the power of music not
only to contextualize Bassanio's choice, but also (as Shylock will echo
later) its ability to call forth tears. In this sense, Shylock's
reference to urine seems a bitter satire on Portia's repeated references
to sympathetic tears-both called forth by music.

Has anyone studied this motif (the physical response to music), either
specifically in the play, or generally as it appears in Early Modern
literature?

Kris McDermott
Central Michigan University

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Geralyn Horton <
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Date:           Tuesday, 8 Feb 2005 13:36:49 -0500
Subject: 16.0252 Bassanio
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0252 Bassanio

I believe that Bassanio is intended as a portrait of a good man, and is
so understood in performance as long as the actor who plays him is a
handsome and charming one.   Bassanio has a childlike trusting heart,
somewhat over inclined towards generosity. Everyone in the play likes
him and no one says a word or a witticism to turn the audience against
him.   Nerissa says that of all the gentlemen her eyes have looked upon,
Bassanio is the best deserving a fair lady.  The only evidence we have
of Bassanio's faults he supplies himself, and he also says that he
regrets his faults and intends to amend --- so what if it is through a
cockamamie scheme? That's the plot, after all.  Bassanio never joins in
the anti-Semitic nastiness of his friends, though he has plenty of
motive to do so.  He and Portia were smitten with each other when first
they met--- I suppose that we are to imagine that Bassanio did not court
her at that time because his fortune was so inferior to hers that a
careful father would turn him away.  But once she is orphaned and at the
mercy of chance, chance may give her to one less worthy than he-- or if
Providence rules the choice of caskets, may intend him as her true and
destined husband.  Isn't it a kind of duty for him to make the attempt?

Portia is cleverer as well as richer than Bassanio, and somewhat
inclined to scorn and manipulation.   Their contrasting temperaments may
form a pair better than either is singly.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Sohmer <
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Date:           Tuesday, 8 Feb 2005 13:52:24 EST
Subject: 16.0252 Bassanio
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0252 Bassanio

Dear Friends,

I thought John Drakakis' point of view on MV was absolutely spot-on,
particularly as he emphasizes those nagging (and terrible) questions of
hatred which Shakespeare tries to solve mimetically in the play.

I found not quite so satisfying the admirable Peter Bridgman's
suggestion that, since Shakespeare's Venice lacks canals, perhaps the
bard did not know of its Ghetto; I'm not sure that follows. For myself,
I would find it hard to believe that Shakespeare didn't know of Venice's
canals. Shakespeare certainly knew the Jews of Venice had a synagogue
(twice at TLN 1339-40). In fact, the Jews of Venice were ghettoized in
1516 and built their first synagogue in ca. 1525. By contrast, Jews were
banished from England in 1290 and not rehabilitated until 1656. There
were no synagogues in Shakespeare's England; the first synagogue in
London was built in 1656, the oldest still in operation dates from 1701.

David Lindley renders a sound reading of Jessica's "I'm never merry,
etc." But I wonder whether he overlooks the name of the divinity, Diana
goddess of virginity, whom Lorenzo intends the music to awaken -- and
then to pierce his mistress's ear (loud sexual connotation). Portia
arrives a moment later; when Lorenzo recognizes her voice, she compares
him to a blind man knowing the cuckoo by its song. Portia's cuckoo -- a
familiar symbol for cuckoldry -- ushers in a series of speeches and puns
about rings and infidelity ... which runs relentlessly all the way to
the play's last line which has Gratiano fretting about protecting
Nerissa's "ring," an endeavor already proven hopeless. If one examines
those instances where Shakespeare's female characters use the word
"merry," I believe one will find that the word used by a female conveys
an element of randiness. Another Portia orders tells her messenger, "Say
I am merry" to Brutus in the hope of luring her husband home from the
bloody, dangerous business in the capitol.

Others may disagree, but I find David Basch's reading of the play
romantic and whimsical. Not that I'm against romance and/or whimsy. I
just don't think those effects are what Shakespeare was driving for in MV.

Hope this helps.

Steve

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Godshalk <
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Date:           Tuesday, 08 Feb 2005 14:17:41 -0500
Subject: 16.0252 Bassanio
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0252 Bassanio

"As Shakespeare's Venice contains no canals, it is quite likely he was
unaware of the ghetto," writes Peter Bridgman.

However, it does have gondolas. Jessica and Lorenzo are reported to have
been seen in one (2.8.8). I assume that where there are gondolas, there
are canals for them to float in.  So we could, if we pleased, assume
that Jews in Venice imply that they must have a ghetto in which to live.
Antonio would certainly not allow Shylock to live in his hood, would he?

Bill Godshalk

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Wednesday, 9 Feb 2005 08:20:15 -0000
Subject: 16.0252 Bassanio
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0252 Bassanio

At the risk of being the 100th person to mention it, Peter Bridgman's
comment that

 >As Shakespeare's Venice contains no canals, it
 >is quite likely he was unaware of the ghetto

is hard to reconcile with the lines

     . . . in a gondola were seen together
     Lorenzo and his amorous Jessica.
     (2.8.8-9)

Gabriel Egan

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