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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: August ::
Shylock as Suffering Servant
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1318  Wednesday, 10 August 2005

[1]     From:   D Bloom <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 9 Aug 2005 09:51:19 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.1306 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[2]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 9 Aug 2005 08:03:57 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1311 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[3]     From:   David Basch <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 09 Aug 2005 11:56:04 -0400
S       ubj:    Re: SHK 16.1311 Shylock as Suffering Servant


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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Date:           Tuesday, 9 Aug 2005 09:51:19 -0500
Subject: 16.1306 Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.1306 Shylock as Suffering Servant

There is a curious dream-like quality to this discussion with Ed Taft,
and, as dreams eventually bore even those who have them, I will drop it.
  I will not even offer any rejoinders where he has misunderstood me,
not even where he says, "The whole point of my post was to show that one
can't, as Don tries to do, infer theme and content from plot alone (or
even from genre or generic structure)."

Much more interesting is his last remark:

 >"One final point: maybe the most interesting character in MoV is not
 >Shylock but Portia. To me, every major action she takes in the play is
 >both right and wrong at the same time: the most obvious example is in
 >the trial scene: she's right to want to save Antonio's life; but she's
 >wrong to break Shylock completely in the process."

I agree wholeheartedly that she is the most interesting character (and
wasted on a dullard like Bassanio). And I agree that her actions have a
moral complexity not found in Bassanio's or Shylock's or Antonio's.

I have some reservations about the last assertion, however. As with a
lot of these posts, it appears to me to assume a well worked-out scheme
of moral rightness and wrongness that I find particularly
uncharacteristic of this age of the world.

First, what does she do except cite the law? How is that morally wrong?

Second, why is the "breaking" of Shylock morally wrong? What does
breaking mean? Is it the application of the law to a condemned criminal?
  The taking of his money instead of his life, otherwise forfeit?

Third, are we saying that the law is morally wrong? If so, which law? On
what grounds do we condemn it?

Fourth, to what extent are we applying alien ideals to a local situation
after the fashion of colonial governments?

I am not saying that Portia is necessarily pure and untainted in her
actions as the pretend judge. I just seek a little clarification on just
what is being condemned and why.

Cheers,
don

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
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Date:           Tuesday, 9 Aug 2005 08:03:57 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 16.1311 Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1311 Shylock as Suffering Servant

Larry Weiss quotes me, "In pure business parlance, interest equals
profit, so it is irrelevant whether the capitalist is a merchant or a
banker.  Marx erred in putting pejorative value judgements upon the
banker more than the merchant.  That is sheer bunk.

Then Larry Weiss, writes, "Absolutely correct; except for one itty-bitty
quibble.  Interest is not profit.  It is the rent paid for the temporary
use of the money.  The cost of earning that rent (and there are costs in
the banking business is the profit."

Martin Steward quotes me, "Marx was flat out wrong...etc."

Then Martin Steward writes, "Which is odd, because I'm sure I remember
reading loads about all that in 'Capital'. Has Bill Arnold read the work?"

Well, well, well.  Here we are splitting hairs again, and about stuff
that has nothing to do with MOV.  Look, gentlemen, as Hardy will remind
us if we keep up this sidebar stuff, this is all irrelevant to an
understanding of MOV except to make the following point.  Larry Weiss
interjects value judgement terms upon basic business terminology, and
all that Marxist loaded language is as passe as burnt toast.  Throw it
out, for God's sake!

Yes, I have read *Das Kapital* [ ! ]  So what?  It is history, the
reading, and the memory will stay memory.  I care not to revisit
pejorative communistic illogic about capitalism.  Interest and profit
are *vig* pure and simple.  Now, that is loaded with pejorative meaning,
isn't it?  Doesn't the play take place in an Italian city?  Shylock's
demand of a pound of flesh is not unlike the Godfather's want to break a
debtor's legs.  So, what is the point?

In MOV, ALL the characters are putting various forms of *vig* on their
trading of money and love.  Shakespeare was well read in the NT and
obviously, at least to me, is putting a lot of Biblical spin on that [!]


The key question of this comedy of love seems to be: it's wrong to
interfer with love, whether between parents and children, between
lovers, or between friends, and to debase love with *vig* is to debase
love!  To quibble over what kind of *vig* it is and to say one man's vig
is better or worse than another's is irrelevant.  Remember R&J?  Today,
Shakespeare would have the premise over a pre-nup contract [ ! ]

Shylock is a minor character in the play.  His vig is Faustian!  He
plays the Devil in his attempts to exact the soul aka spirit of the
borrower in trade for money.  Portia's father seemed in his casket
riddle game for the hand of his daughter in marriage to be attempting to
have his daughter marry for love, and nothing but love, without vig [ ! ]

Inasmuch as Shakespeare has all the characters making their own vig
trades submerges the play into the realities of love and life.

I do not believe that *Das Kapital* Marxist viewpoints are relevant
anymore than I believe post-WWII Holocaust viewpoints are relevant.  The
play was staged originally before a Judaic-Christain English audience
circa 1600!

Bill Arnold
http://www.cwru.edu/affil/edis/scholars/arnold.htm

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Basch <
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Date:           Tuesday, 09 Aug 2005 11:56:04 -0400
Subject: 16.1311 Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1311 Shylock as Suffering Servant

I think many are getting sidetracked by economic side issues when they
analyze The Merchant of Venice.

The Bible forbids Israelites from charging interest on loans to brother
Israelites. This is called "usury." The Christians of Europe were
practicing this precept and hence could not lend on interest to their
brothers. But the Bible allowed Jews to lend on interest to non Jews,
hence the Jew in Medieval Europe was able to become a money lender since
he did not lend on interest to his fellow Jews. The issue was not high
interest but the fact of the interest itself that the Bible forbade.

Antonio goes to Shylock for a loan in order to lend the money to
Bassanio so Bassanio could court and win Portia. When that was
successful, Bassanio would get Portia's wealth. That is, Bassanio's loan
from Antonio would make money for him, and he would be able to use the
money he got to pay back Shylock.

As I understand it, Christian lending to Christian in England was legal
at the time of the Merchant of Venice, but not in Venice. So Shylock
would have been perceived by English audiences as not doing anything
heinous since they were doing it themselves.

As the play unfolds, we learn that Shylock gives Antonio a free loan, to
"win [his] love." I explained this in connection with Antonio being a
converted Jew, something we learn from the text of the play as Shylock
constantly mentions "our," "our father Abram," "suffrance is the badge
of all our tribe." According to Talmudic law, Antonio is still entitled
to a free loan from a Jew. However, it was Shylock's penalty for default
that seemed grisly, "a pound from his fair flesh." But this penalty is
an allusion to the Bible's penalty exacted from the owner of an ox that
had gored another ox. The goring ox was sold and the proceeds taken
"from his flesh," the very phrase used in the Talmud, and this was
divided between the ox owner and the owner of the ox that got gored,
amounting to a half payment to the owner of victim ox since the goring,
a first time goring, was a happenstance that no one could be blamed for.

Notice that Antonio is not worried about this penalty since he
apparently knows that it is a Talmudic in-joke. Anyway, he fully expects
that one of his three ships, or all, will successfully complete its
mission and pay for all debts. It only becomes a problem when all ships
are reported lost and Shylock has a grudge against Antonio, thinking he
helped Jessica elope.  This should dismiss all ideas that Shylock had
some kind of devilish plot against Antonio from the first. Otherwise,
could Shylock have forseen Antonio's ruin on the seas?

When we continue to analyze the play in this fashion, we get a better
view of what is going on and a better handle on evaluating the behavior
of all the characters and not proceeding in accordance with stereotypes
that Shakespeare did not indulge in, though he left room for audiences
to vent their prejudices if they chose to do so. We immediately learn
that Shylock's hate for Antonio "for he is a Christian" is not that at
all but a hate of Jew that became a Christian, something altogether
different. The motivations become different and we can see new things.

As we have seen from the record of critics, even without knowing this,
many have indeed rejected the temptation to stereotyping and have seen a
suffering Shylock who speaks the most moving speeches in the play:

                      No news of them? Why, so: and I know
         not what's spent in the search: why, thou loss upon
         loss! the thief gone with so much, and so much to
         find the thief; and no satisfaction, no revenge:
         nor no in luck stirring but what lights on my
         shoulders; no sighs but of my breathing; no tears
         but of my shedding.

Shylock has been wounded to the quick by his daughter's abandonment of
him.  It is a grievous loss compounded with all the other losses and he
is angry and vindictive at the very same time that he is hurt. This is
Shakespeare giving a portrait of real suffering and it beats me that so
many in audiences fail to register with compassion when confronted with
such moving lines spoken. When audiences do react humanly to what
Shakespeare presents to them, they will see many new things in the play
not seen before.

David Basch

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