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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: August ::
Shylock as Suffering Servant
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1352  Friday, 19 August 2005

[1]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Thursday, 18 Aug 2005 12:58:03 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1344 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[2]     From:   Edmund Taft  <
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        Date:   Thursday, 18 Aug 2005 14:10:14 -0400
        Subj:   Shylock as Suffering Servant

[3]     From:   Scot Zarela <
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        Date:   Thursday, 18 Aug 2005 13:38:56 -0700
        Subj:   Shylock & the Merchant & "The Merchant"


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Thursday, 18 Aug 2005 12:58:03 -0400
Subject: 16.1344 Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1344 Shylock as Suffering Servant

J.D. Markel cavils with my last post:

 >Shakespeare didn't invent the trial scene, it comes from Il Pecorone.
 >And conflict with strict laws is hardly unknown as dramatic device.

I never said WS invented this.  The origin is irrelevant to the
jurisprudential point I made.

 >>"But who quarrels with the result?"
 >
 >Are you new to this thread?  Just about everyone.

There are one or two SHAKSPERians who have come close to saying that
Shylock should have been allowed to butcher Antonio, but I surely hope
they are not "just about everyone."

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft  <
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Date:           Thursday, 18 Aug 2005 14:10:14 -0400
Subject:        Shylock as Suffering Servant

Don Bloom writes:

"I have to confess that I do consider homicide a much more serious
offense than issuing spiteful insults. Since my whole interpretation of
the play is grounded (in some measure) on this view, if it's wrong, then
the interpretation is wrong. No doubt about it."

Those who see MoV differently than Don have never, to my knowledge,
argued that Shylock should get away with murder. Don cuts off the
history in the play prematurely because then it makes interpretation
easy. What the play clearly suggests is that there is an action/reaction
going on: spit on some men often enough and they will seek redress/revenge.

Don pretends that one day, out of the blue, and for no reason, Shylock
decided to plot against Antonio's life. What play is he reading?

Ed Taft

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Scot Zarela <
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Date:           Thursday, 18 Aug 2005 13:38:56 -0700
Subject:        Shylock & the Merchant & "The Merchant"

Ed Taft revises Shakespeare's stagecraft:  "... the situation at the
start of the play in which we learn how abominably Antonio treated
Shylock in the past (and will again, he promises!)"

Well, that's not the start of the play.  Ed leaves out a lot; the scene
he refers to comes later, when Shylock accuses Antonio of (abominable?)
name-calling and spitting.  Antonio doesn't deny it:

           I am as like to call thee so againe,
           To spet on thee againe, to spurne thee too.

So he says! --- but that may be only his hauteur.  Shylock's 'tale', the
'you-did-thus' of his accusation, is striking, vivid:  so is Antonio's
riposte.  And both, but especially Shylock's lines, have been excerpted,
anthologized, have had a career beyond the context of the play.  But for
now let's stay in the play.  The contempt between the two men of
business in the PRESENT SCENE is he main thing:  both contribute to it,
and it almost derails the bargain that Bassanio's depending on.  This
near derailment by excess of rancor is a comic action, and dramatic ---
and breathtaking.  And immediate.

If we, for the moment, ignore this comedy, to focus on their
'problematic' contempt, we should not fly to make it contempt between
'Jew' and 'Christian', but rather keep it personal:  THIS Jew, and THIS
Christian.  Then, we ought to be fair to Antonio, and note that his open
contempt issues in a principled objection to the other's business
practices; while Shylock's contempt, insofar as he expresses it, is
tactical:  he's toying with an enemy somewhat in his power (because
Antonio needs the loan to keep his promise, etc.).  And of course the
full extent of Shylock's contempt is NOT expressed:  he keeps it hidden,
nursing malice, meditating revenge.

None of this need disambiguate Antonio:  he can still "suffer... from
lack of self knowledge" if that makes you happy . . . or unhappy, or
happy to be unhappy.  None of it means, either, that Shylock is 'evil':
  he's not Eeee-vil, but let him be a villain.  Please!

Syd Kasten finds in this discussion thread only three ways of looking at
"Merchant":  "an antisemitic tract, a philosemitic tract or simply a
comedy with a cardboard Jew banker figure to spice up an otherwise weak
plot."  (Since when is comedy simple?  Go try and write one!)

"The Merchant of Venice" is plainly not a tract of any kind; why should
it be necessary to say yet again that it's a comedy?  Is it because
comedy is "simple", too simple to be worth all this academic fuss?  Is
it because a comic villain is made of "cardboard", because the cardboard
villain's function is to "spice up" the plot, and because the plot is
"weak" --- and so forth, until by rhetoric we practice despising every
pleasure of the play?

Ed Taft again, reminding Rip Van Bloom, and me and all the slowpokes, of
"Shakespeare's characteristic way of working.  Sure, he provided
suspense and duels and thrills ... but he also provided more for those
who wanted to listen and watch carefully --- and more than once."  This,
speaking of time warps, reminds me of the old pedagogy that held all the
'popular' elements of the plays to be sops for groundlings --- mere
frills of thrills --- while the 'real' merit lay hidden for those
Quality folks who would pore over a play as over a lesson.  I think the
Elizabethans had their fill of lessons, moralities, sermons ---
sometimes they wanted to get away to a play.  A real play, not a
simulacrum that reserved its special best quidditie for A Better Class
of people, later.  Shakespeare published his plays by putting them on
the stage:  that's how they were made public; that's how they reached
the audience they were intended for; and that (ambiguities and all) is
how to see Shakespeare's art in its fullness.

Kenneth Chan writes:  "... [W]e should hesitate before rashly leaping to
the conclusion that Shakespeare intended his plays as mere fodder for
multiple conflicting interpretations."  Yes, but "mere fodder"
mis-states the case, as does "cater to" --- I'd rather say that
Shakespeare's plays ALLOW these conflicts of interpretation:  wisely
allow, I think, because the conflicts will happen and there's not a
thing that can be done about it.  It's impossible for a playwright to
nail down every last meaning:  meanings ramify, and by analysis even
particles of meaning are (endlessly?) divisible into more particles.
What happens on the stage is the play:  the (singular) meaning is in the
(plural) meanings in the buzz-buzz of the people streaming away:  they
can't stop talking about it, arguing about it.  What did it mean?  Then
there's life in it!

-- Scot

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