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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: August ::
Shylock as Suffering Servant
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1331  Friday, 12 August 2005

[1]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Thursday, 11 Aug 2005 06:14:29 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1324 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[2]     From:   Colin Cox <
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        Date:   Thursday, 11 Aug 2005 08:55:38 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1324 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[3]     From:   D Bloom <
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        Date:   Thursday, 11 Aug 2005 12:14:24 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.1324 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[4]     From:   David Basch <
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        Date:   Thursday, 11 Aug 2005 13:17:28 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1324 Shylock as Suffering Servant


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
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Date:           Thursday, 11 Aug 2005 06:14:29 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 16.1324 Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1324 Shylock as Suffering Servant

John Drakakis writes, "Martin Steward puts his finger on the problem I
think, and so no more needs to be said by way of response to Weiss and
Arnold...All of that has nothing to do with markets, interest, or
profit.   OR, of course, we can think of all this as a mystification of
the realities (16th century realities) of economic practice."

Excuse me?  Where is the PROFIT in exacting a genuine and bloody real
"pound of flesh" from the side of a human being?

Do you not know that Jesus was wounded in the side while on the cross?
Do you not know the symbolic role of *Doubting Thomas* in the mortal
wound to the side?  Do you not know that that event took place when
Jesus appeared as a Spirit Being after the epiphany of The Resurrection?

Do you not know that Jesus was bartered the Kingdom of the Real World
for his Soul by the Devil on the mountain top, and refused?

Do you not know that the Devil Mephisto bartered for the Soul of Faust
in exchange for a moment of worldly lust?

Now, I ask you: wherein is Shylock a businessman concerned with profit
on a buck when he engages in a Soul-rendering transaction?

Now, I ask you: why is a central point made of Shylock becoming a
Christian as part of the bargain to UNDO his wound-in-the-side barter?

Do you not know that Shakespeare was a Christian author in a
Judaic-Christian society of Englishmen and Englishwomen in 1600 and that
all his plays delve into Christian concepts of good and love?

In other words, MOV is not a play about a business transaction.

Get real [ ! ]

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

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Colin Cox <
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Date:           Thursday, 11 Aug 2005 08:55:38 -0700
Subject: 16.1324 Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1324 Shylock as Suffering Servant

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

For starters, she tells Bassanio which casket to open, breaking the
conditions of her father's will. Then, as Robert Projansky notes, she
acts out the charade of being a judge. Followed by her malicious last
act of forcing her spouse to yield the ring he promised never to yield.

Perhaps not morally bankrupt, but without doubt of questionable moral fibre.

Colin Cox

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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Date:           Thursday, 11 Aug 2005 12:14:24 -0500
Subject: 16.1324 Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.1324 Shylock as Suffering Servant

Robert Projansky, in responding to a question of mine ("First, what does
she [Portia] do except cite the law? How is that morally wrong?"), says,

 >"Well, probably the most dishonest thing possible: she cheats Shylock of
 >a fair trial by falsely posing as a judge to judge a case in which the
 >defendant is her husband's best friend, which is to say she insures
 >Antonio's escape by putting in the fix. Anything morally wrong there? I
 >find it odd that this seems to be so little noticed."

Although a point with some interest it demonstrates to me the
essentially humorless approach to the play that (I feel) misleads so
many people about it. If you read it as a romantic comedy, you see that
the trial in Act IV is supposed to be exciting but fun. We know (or
assume) that Shylock won't be allowed to commit his act of homicidal
malice, but we don't know how he will be stopped.

He is, in fact, stopped by a learned interpretation of the law after he
has been offered several opportunities to accept reason, self-interest,
and finally mercy in taking the money owed him, rather than demanding
the death of Antonio. He refuses, and gets instead what he deserves, a
harsh punishment that is nevertheless much more merciful than he was
willing to grant Antonio. Shylock is set up as a legalistic bully, and
we all enjoy the defeat of bullies.

The fun is compounded by the fact that the learned interpreter is Portia
in disguise (showing her kinship to Rosalind, Beatrice and the Princess
of France in her wit and intelligence). None of those presumably
well-educated noblemen is able to figure out the way of saving Antonio,
but dear, sweet little Portia can and does. The play can thus end happily.

If it is vital to reject this comic-romantic play for some kind of lost
work by Brecht, then Portia's disguise will constitute a gross
miscarriage of justice. But it requires the forcing of evidence to fit a
preconceived notion. Nothing is fixed, and Shylock not only accepts
"Balthasar" but praises his learning and his sense of justice. He is, of
course, entirely correct in that praise, much to his later dismay.

Cheers,
don

PS. In the interests of clarity, I base my interpretations of the play
on the following that I see as facts: 1. Shylock attempts to have
Antonio judicially murdered; 2. He refuses offers of full payment for
the monetary debt that Antonio has defaulted on, and he likewise refuses
pleas for mercy; 3. His motive in seeking Antonio's death is revenge for
having been publicly insulted by Antonio; 4. He is defeated in this
endeavor by Portia alone, all the men having failed.

 From these (mainly) I draw my conclusions about who is the villain, who
is the hero, and what kind of play we are looking at. While the
possibility of complication, complexity, ambiguity and irony lies wide
open (as in Shylock's wonderful reminder to those who despise him that
he is a human being even though he is a Jew), I consider the play
intellectually and morally coherent. db

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Basch <
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Date:           Thursday, 11 Aug 2005 13:17:28 -0400
Subject: 16.1324 Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1324 Shylock as Suffering Servant

A number of commentators have pegged Antonio as a personification of
Isaiah's suffering servant. I think that if the play is consulted, this
image is not tenable. After all, Antonio is not such a good guy. Note
his extremism and hate in dealing with Shylock, having often scolded
him. As Shylock complains to him:

         Signior Antonio, many a time and oft
         In the Rialto you have rated me
         About my moneys and my usances:
         Still have I borne it with a patient shrug,
         For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.
         You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog,
         And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine,
         And all for use of that which is mine own.

Antonio not only admits to these displays of hate but promises to
continue them in the future.

Yes, Antonio suffers at the supposed danger he is placed under Shylock.
But rather than attempt to conciliate Shylock, he continues to berate
him and egg him on. Finally, when the situation is reversed and he has
gained control over Shylock, his demands are hardly merciful but
punitive in the extreme. If you read the text carefully, Antonio calls
for complete control of Shylock's funds, both halves taken by him, one
half outright and the other half under his control. He also calls for a
hateful, forced conversion to "the religion of love." Antonio is hardly
a saintly man and his conduct is in no way exemplary of the mercy in
granting forgiveness of the penalty that was called for from Shylock.

When Shylock is recognized as an honest, frugal man that has erred in
trying to place Antonio under pressure so that Antonio would beg him, a
Jew, for mercy, it is he that can be seen as "a suffering servant." It
is he that is "numbered among the transgressors" and who is "esteemed
not." It is Shylock that had given Antonio a free loan to win his love.
It is he that has had his daughter stolen from him, a robbery confirmed
by Antonio in court, and it is he that has been robbed by that daughter.
It is also Shylock that calls attention to the issue of slavery that
exists in Venice and its sometimes directly cruel practices and it is he
that spells out what the implications of the penalty that is imposed by
the Venetian court that takes from him what he needs to live. If anyone
is a suffering servant in the play, it is Shylock who speaks the most
moving speeches in the play. Told that his daughter sold her mother's
ring for a monkey, Shylock says:

         Out upon her! Thou torturest me, Tubal: it was my
         turquoise; I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor:
         I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys.

And when Lancelot comes upon the tearful Shylock spilling his guts to
his friend Tubal about his hurt at the loss of his daughter, Lancelot
sees them both as devils as though devils mourn the loss of daughters.

Shakespeare works overtime in his play to humanize Shylock.
Unfortunately, these attempts are constantly frustrated by the
presuppositions of audiences as to the inhumanity and beastliness of
Jews. It is time to see Shylock as a suffering human being who could not
have been guilty of a true attempt to cut up another human being. It is
only his being Jewish that makes this seem possible in the minds of
audiences and only the idea of some Jews that the great Shakespeare
could have shared such prejudiced ideas that makes this plausible in the
plot. When this is put behind us, Shakespeare's universalism emerges and
the hypocritical powerful that demand a mercy that they themselves do
not dream of practicing are exposed and the true message of brotherhood
inherent in this wonderfully contrived play emerges.

David Basch

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