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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: August ::
Shylock as Suffering Servant
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1282  Tuesday, 2 August 2005

[1]     From:   Scot Zarela <
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        Date:   Monday, 1 Aug 2005 12:15:40 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1275 Shylock as

[2]     From:   JD Markel <
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        Date:   Monday, 1 Aug 2005 13:05:15 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1275 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[3]     From:   Joseph Egert <
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        Date:   Monday, 01 Aug 2005 21:29:14 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1275 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[4]     From:   Stephen C. Rose <
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        Date:   Monday, 1 Aug 2005 15:28:18 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1275 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[5]     From:   Elliott Stone <
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        Date:   Monday, 1 Aug 2005 23:51:40 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1275 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[6]     From:   John Drakakis <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 2 Aug 2005 14:54:03 +0100
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.1275 Shylock as Suffering Servant


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Scot Zarela <
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Date:           Monday, 1 Aug 2005 12:15:40 -0700
Subject: 16.1275 Shylock as
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1275 Shylock as

I share Ed Taft's preference for complexity; but in the case of Shylock
(and many similar cases), the variety in presentation Ed speaks of has
to do with brushwork:  but the generic figure of Comic Villain is
foundational.  There's nothing delusory about the clarity of this
recognition.

Again, the plot of the play is its structure, without which the theme is
a flag without a mast.  The playwright chose a comic plot, and
everything else must flow from this choice-including even the
complications, pathos, and reversals that seem to fly contrariwise.  The
strength of Shakespearean comedy supports a lot, but if Shylock is
played as a tragic figure (rather than a comic figure with some tragic
'painting') the play goes out of whack.

-- Scot

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           JD Markel <
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Date:           Monday, 1 Aug 2005 13:05:15 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 16.1275 Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1275 Shylock as Suffering Servant

Joseph says:  "the alpha Iewe" and  "Shiloh, anyone?"

Well, a certain famous author who wrote MOV was "profoundly
anti-semitic" nevertheless intuitively described Shylock as the
"counter-Barabbas" but didn't make the obvious leap.  I've seen
considerations dating back to the early 20th c. about the Genesis 49
connection... I think it's about time to get down to the nitty-gritty of
this Shylock business:

Shylock is God.

Or Jesus Sr.  Or both, of course. His blood is like red wine.  He is
Deuteronomy's circumscisor of the foreskins of men's hearts.  He is the
counter-Barabbas.  And how Shakespeare outdid Marlowe!  Shylock is the
Old Testament-y God, maybe even Jesus himself as Shakespeare imagines
Jesus would be at an older age. Or both, of course.

Now, if God's only child were an Italian girl, what kind of name would
Shakespeare invent for her? The "Christians" have usurped Shylock and
Jessica and will this marriage to Lorenzo ever work out? Who or what
does Lorenzo represent?  And what about that "manna from heaven?" Portia
may be playing God but in the end the loot is really Shylock's.
Shakespeare was a joker to the end.  The usury was a nice touch.  If
Jesus/God returned to earth at Venice in the 16 c. what would be his
occupation?  Carpentry was forbidden to Jews.  Launcelot's soliloquy
explains Shylock's role, and who Bassanio is.  Certain famous authors
inform us what Launcelot says is to be disregarded as "comedy."  For me,
I think comedy can say a lot. And why is Launcelot a hunchback?  Wish I
saw Marty Feldman play him.

The play is blasphemous.  It's treasonous too, but that's for another
time. But how does Shiloh become Shylock?  Might be something to do with
trying to figure out what the heck Jerome read (hint, hint).

S was a clever and funny guy, and some find his Jew confounding.  I find
confounding the name Bellario, the lawyer from Padua.  Bellare and
Belare have connotations of whining and hostility yet the Italians I've
talked to sense the word as "good breath" or "good voice".  S gave a
lawyer such a name?  My expectations ruined!  :)   I would have
preferred Malario...

Credit where credit's due.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Joseph Egert <
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Date:           Monday, 01 Aug 2005 21:29:14 +0000
Subject: 16.1275 Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1275 Shylock as Suffering Servant

Ed Taft writes, "he [Shylock] strikes different sensibilities
differently....The problem is that these critics...give up complexity
and embrace oversimplification, all for the purpose of a delusory
clarity and simplicity that is not really there."

As is so often the case, Ed is exactly right. The posts on this thread
are a perfect example. Rather than confront the text in all its
deliberate ambiguity, some prefer to glide along congenial surface
readings, at times stooping to ersatz ad hominem diagnosis of their critics.

Hear the Word from Mt. Weiss:

"The conversion I referred to is the common law tort of wrongful taking
of personal property. It has nothing to do with shifting religious
affiliations."

I repeat. Jessica's conversion in the real world of Shakespeare's play
would bias any judgment rendered by Portia's gang.

Herr Doctor Weiss continues (Has Bellario vouched for him as well?): "I
still see no evidence, as opposed to paranoid fears, that the court in
Venice...would have bent the law out of shape for the sake of saving a
Christian the obligation of paying restitutionary damages. Mr. Egert is
bitter that the court unjustly denied Shylock his pound of flesh. He
should get over it."

Better paranoia than Pollyanna. Larry Weiss evades or misinterprets
every contrary point made, while refusing to acknowledge the Thing of
Darkness shadowing Portia's gang. The pound of flesh may indeed be
"dearly bought" to every scarred Alien demanding his bond from the dawn
of time. The mercifixion of Shylock has added to the cost.

Regards,
Joe Egert

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephen C. Rose <
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Date:           Monday, 1 Aug 2005 15:28:18 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 16.1275 Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1275 Shylock as Suffering Servant

I have not read much of this thread, I think it is because I am familiar
with the Suffering Servant that I concluded that the "as" in the
thread's title was ... a spectacular leap.

The Suffering Servant is the subject of a beautiful poem in Isaiah 52
where the remarkable poet-author envisions one wounded for our
transgressions and bruised for our iniquities.  The innocent whose
suffering in essence works for our healing. A thesis that will be
familiar to readers of Rene Girard. It is of course an ultimately
Christian theme relating to the crucifixion of Jesus.

I write this merely to caution those who accept the thread's title as
plausible that they would have to assume that Shylock is physically
almost decimated (and despised and rejected and bruised) and that his
physical suffering acts to somehow redeem the community in which he
lives, because God has laid upon his shoulders the weight of our
transgressions, in order for the thesis to have much weight.

Again I have not read all the notes and if this is the contention under
discussion my apologies.  I find it ... a spectacular leap.

Best, S

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Elliott Stone <
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Date:           Monday, 1 Aug 2005 23:51:40 -0400
Subject: 16.1275 Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1275 Shylock as Suffering Servant

In 1576 Sir Humphrey Gilbert published a tract he had written that
promoted a "North-West Passage" or as he called it "a new passage to
Cataia". In June of that year Martin Frobisher took 3 small vessels as
far as Baffin Island and into what is now known as Frobisher Bay. Other
enthusiasts including among other investors were Richard Hakluyt, John
Dee and Michael Lok , a London merchant with a large Mediterranean
business. This expedition returned to London and delivered to Lok a bit
of material that a conflicting assay report was declared to contain gold.

This changed the search for the north-west passage to the promise of
immediate riches from the Canadian shores and a new fleet was sent out
with investors that included-Sussex, Leicester, Burley, Walsingham and
Philip Sidney. The Company of Cathay was chartered in March of 1577.
Queen Elizabeth contributed 100 pounds and a ship and became the leading
Cataian.  (perhaps that is why Countess Olivia in TN was called a
"Cataian") Furbisher's fleet returned, the ore was delivered to Lok  and
preparations were made to smelt the ore at Deptford. Lok argued that  he
expected a yield of 40 pounds a ton and Dee also said that he had
obtained 7ounces of silver from 200 pounds of the ore. The smelting
reports were faked but this information was withheld from the public and
a greater new expedition was put together.

One of the largest investors swindled in this new venture was believe it
or not the Earl of Oxford who gave a bond for 1,000 pounds to Lok and
purchased in addition 2,000 pounds worth of stock from Lok.

The venture brought back worthless ore and the company collapsed to a
total loss of 20,000 pounds!

Innocent or guilty Lok was imprisoned in The Fleet.

In Measure for Measure Luccio at one point refers to the Duke as a "sly
fellow". His use of the word "sly" accuses the nobleman of dissembling
the wickedness he practices.

Shakespeare could have used the same name to create his character Shylok
as the personification of the ruthless creditor.

It would seem much more logical, given this true reading of History,
that Shakespeare's audience was meant to understand the name of Shylok
as a reference to a man that practices shrewd, cruel, lending with the
hoi polloi of the London Court rather than a reference to an obscure
word in the Talmud that was only available to be read by a handful of
scholars in Elizabethan England and would have meant nothing to the
groundlings at the Globe.

Best,
Elliott

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Drakakis <
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Date:           Tuesday, 2 Aug 2005 14:54:03 +0100
Subject: 16.1275 Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.1275 Shylock as Suffering Servant

Ouch indeed! Joe Egert.

Water has flown under the bridge since 2000, and the available evidence
has persuaded me to change my mind. Although if Egert reads my essay
closely enough he will see a more interesting contradiction in the play
re Shylock's name that has to do with TWO appellations. My conclusions
were speculative, but based on the weight of textual bibliographical
evidence. Orgel's gloss of the etymology of the name Shylock has
occasioned a significant shift of emphasis on my part, and one that I
was not ready to make in 2000. I take it that that is allowed?
Otherwise we will just end up playing ping pong with our prejudices.

PS

I guess that Florence Amit must have me in mind when she talks of those
who want to put 'a simple slant' on Shakespeare. I wish! It is the
complexities that are causing the problem. Nor is it possible to hide
behind vaguely romantic notions of the creative artist to justify
whatever one wants to think.

I don't doubt what Amit says about the library in Venice.  The problem
is that I have difficulty in linking it in the kind of way she seems to
be suggesting to a 16th century English dramatist who never visited
Venice (as far as we know - unless someone wants to come up with a
speculation that the lost years were spent in the fleshpots of Venice!)
  She may find unpalatable the suggestion that Shakespeare was not in
total control of what he was doing (what artist ever is?).  She may also
find unpalatable that in Elizabethan culture there was s very strong
anti-Semitic strain - and I use the term guardedly and with due
consideration to Steve Sohmer's reminder (both timely and necessary). If
Amit wants real complication, then perhaps she should think about why a
fiscal practice that the modern, late capitalist world depends upon
should have occasioned the vilification of a dramatic character who
represents in embryonic form what was to accelerate into full-blown
capitalism. That question opens up a wide range of contradictions that
the play does not resolve satisfactorily. What makes the play so
interesting (to me, at any rate) is that it foregrounds these
contradictions and enables us to think through the politics of our own
reception of the text. Seeking out theatrical representations of 16th
century Jews as positive role models, or aligning Shakespeare with Old
Testament Judaism, will not cut it I think. But what we can read in the
play is the structure of prejudice, and one of the reasons why we keep
on coming back to Shakespeare is because he offers us very full (even
if, at times, unpalatable) accounts of such structures, contradictions
and all. Whether he intended to or not is of no consequence. The
aesthetic structures and the social and cultural detail are part and
parcel of what we think of as Elizabethan 'society' (not necessarily an
organic unity).  Shakespeare's art intervenes in those structures,
incorporates them, subscribes to them, sometimes worries over them,
occasionally challenges them. It then becomes a matter of judgement
about how these ingredients are mixed, and how we read them from our
21st century perspective, and that's what we argue about.

Better than working for a living!

Cheers,
John Drakakis

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