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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: August ::
Shylock as Suffering Servant
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1288  Wednesday, 3 August 2005

[1]     From:   Abigail Quart <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 2 Aug 2005 13:34:02 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.1282 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[2]     From:   D Bloom <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 2 Aug 2005 13:06:25 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.1282 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[3]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 02 Aug 2005 15:51:33 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1282 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[4]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 02 Aug 2005 16:12:26 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1282 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[5]     From:   Joseph Egert <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 02 Aug 2005 23:48:10 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1282 [5] Shylock as Suffering Servant

[6]     From:   JD Markel <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 2 Aug 2005 17:44:19 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1282 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[7]     From:   David Basch <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 02 Aug 2005 21:33:40 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1282 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[8]     From:   Florence Amit <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 03 Aug 2005 06:56:26 +0300
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.1275 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[9]     From:   Florence Amit <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 03 Aug 2005 10:49:50 +0300
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1275 Shylock as Suffering Servant


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Abigail Quart <
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Date:           Tuesday, 2 Aug 2005 13:34:02 -0400
Subject: 16.1282 Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.1282 Shylock as Suffering Servant

Speaking of spectacular leaps...

 >"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."

Yeah, well, in Isaiah 53 the suffering servant is revealed as ugly,
quiet, and unprotesting. Jesus? Really?

That's the fun thing about the Bible, we select what we want and toss
the rest. No reason at all that Shakespeare couldn't have built the
whole play MOV on the sentence "He was despised and rejected by men; a
man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide
their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not." Isaiah 53:3 That
leaves out the unprotesting quiet part, and keeps in a bit of the ugly.

Church was compulsory. Surely a sermon or two might have made an
impression, eventually wandering into the plays. There was so much going
on in the back of Shakespeare's mind, and being force-fed the Bible week
in and week out......Please. The man's mind was a sponge.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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Date:           Tuesday, 2 Aug 2005 13:06:25 -0500
Subject: 16.1282 Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.1282 Shylock as Suffering Servant

Oh, Lord, the over-simplification card again.

What some in this discussion seem to miss is that a play has to have
some kind of coherent structure or it won't be a play, and it won't have
an audience. Since Shakespeare's prosperity depended on the audience he
supplied them with what they wanted.

I think we all agree, however, he did a great deal more than write
simple farces and melodramas. The question is what.

 From my way of looking at things, you begin by clarifying as best you
can what the basic story is. You notice (or are guided to notice by
shrewd critics) that there is a strong element of folktale in MOV (as in
Lear) -- more, I would hazard, than in the ostensible fairy-tale of
MSND. The surface structure of interlocked folktale elements provides
for a happy ending-life saved, love fulfilled, villain defeated.

Is that all? Of course not. But it-or something like it-should be the
point of departure.

You likewise notice thematic ideas-friendship, for example-and you try
to fit them in with the basic structure of plot and character. You know
that the ideal of male friendship is very powerful in Shakespeare's time.

(Ed Taft knows it, because he just got through hammering me about its
importance in another discussion a few months ago. I didn't disagree
with him about that importance, but only said that friendship was even
more important in the Middle Ages, while he said it was notably less.)

If we accept the ideal of friendship as a great good, we can fit it into
our view of MOV by showing how Antonio shows his friendship for Bassanio
by staking his life on the loan he gets from Shylock. Bassanio would
return the favor by paying off the debt (which he can do now that he's
wed a royal heiress) but Shylock prefers blood to money. If friendship
is good, and if Antonio and Bassanio display it to a high degree, then
they must be-in that very important area-good men.

Now we can say instead that Shakespeare doesn't believe in the ideal of
friendship, or that this play uses the ideal ironically, since those
characters who display it are actually corrupt and cruel. I find the
first highly unlikely (and I think ET would agree). The second is more
difficult. Who is corrupt? Who is cruel? Who is more, who is less?

To make the argument for ironic reversal of normal expectations, we must
be able to judge to a nicety the moral stature of all those characters.
  The operative word here is "nicety." Much of that moral evaluation
strikes me as misguided, applying modern moral ideas to Elizabethan
morality. In this particular case, it seems to end up regarding Antonio
as a kind of Eichmann because he spits on Shylock, and Shylock as a kind
of Dreyfus even though he nearly succeeds in having Antonio judicially
murdered.

Now this view does not cohere well with the structure of the plot and
characters as I outlined above. And many who go along with the view
agree. But what I call incoherent they call complex.

Whether or not they are mistaken about their good-Shylock-bad-Christians
interpretation, they are certainly mistaken in their assumption that the
rest of us are too stupid to see the complexity. We see it very well.
And we respect it. But to us that does not make the play incoherent, but
brilliant. We notice that the author commonly gives his villains good
sides-Shylock has eyes, Claudius attempts to pray, Hotspur (God save the
mark!) dislikes cunning politicians-and he gives his heroes flaws. But
they are villains and heroes none the less.

At the end, the complexity-mongers are the ones (I think) who tend to be
simplistic. To them it seems that if heroes are not perfect, then they
cannot be heroes. If villains have some justification for their
villainy, they must be heroes. To us others, however, it is the
complexity of (to borrow from H. Bloom) the human.

Cheers,
Don

PS. Give me a moment to put on my flak vest.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Tuesday, 02 Aug 2005 15:51:33 -0400
Subject: 16.1282 Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1282 Shylock as Suffering Servant

 From Egert:

 >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.

"Thing of Darkness"?  No paranoia here I guess.

In any case, I have neither evaded nor misconstrued any "contrary
point."  None has been made.  All Egert offers are conclusions without
textual support.  It reminds me of the Monty Python sketch in which John
Cleese hires Eric Idle for an argument and gets only contradictions.  I
base my conclusion on the record of the trial, the arguments of counsel,
the law as given and the judgment of the court.  If Egert or anyone else
can cite conflicting text, I would be happy to address it.  But I
suspect the response will be "no you won't."

 >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.

So you acknowledge your belief that justice required that Antonio suffer
a painful death, or is this some sort of threat.

If you believe that Shylock should have been allowed to gleefully slice
a pound of  meat from the left pectoral of the still breathing Antonio
writhing on the floor in agony, have the intellectual courage to say so.
  If not, how would you have sent Shylock away without day other than by
wresting the law to your own desires?  I reserve the balance of my
syllogism for any reply you have wit enough to make.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Tuesday, 02 Aug 2005 16:12:26 -0400
Subject: 16.1282 Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1282 Shylock as Suffering Servant

John Drakakis refer to Shylock as

 >a dramatic character who
 >represents in embryonic form what was to accelerate into full-blown
 >capitalism.

This may be accurate in the hindsight of the twenty-first century, but a
more or less technical clarification is in order for the Elizabethan
standpoint.  Banks and moneylenders, while essential factors for
capitalists, were not themselves regarded as capitalists as, in theory,
they did not put their own assets at hazard.  Antonio was a pure
capitalist.  He risked his property in the hope of increase.  A
moneylender, on the other hand, was not considered as giving up his
property or even putting it at risk.  The relationship he had with his
borrower was not what we would understand as a debtor-creditor
relationship.  Rather, it was more in the nature of a bailment.  At a
time when the only money most people had was specie, this was an
understandable confusion.  Lending your neighbor 

 

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