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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: July ::
Shylock as Suffering Servant
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1190  Friday, 8 July 2005

[1]     From:   David Basch <
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        Date:   Thursday, 07 Jul 2005 19:50:04 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1186 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[2]     From:   Florence Amit <
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        Date:   Friday, 08 Jul 2005 10:29:56 +0300
        Subj:   Subject: Shylock as Suffering Servant


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Basch <
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Date:           Thursday, 07 Jul 2005 19:50:04 -0400
Subject: 16.1186 Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1186 Shylock as Suffering Servant

If many commentators see a suffering servant motif in the guise of
Shylock, it is because it is there. He is a man "numbered among the
transgressors" and he is innocent too. Shylock has not hurt Antonio and,
as others have observed, was involved in a charade to throw a scare into
Antonio so that Antonio would beg for mercy from him, a Jew. But the
charade is interrupted and Shylock is left high and dry in the pose of a
killer.

As one commentator observed, Gratiano asks "Can no prayers pierce thee
[your heart]?" Shylock answers, "No, none that thou hast wit enough to
make." The implication is that, while ruffian Gratiano does not have wit
enough to make such an appeal, what about Antonio? This was Shylock's
explicit invitation to have Antonio plead for mercy and get forgiveness.

One attorney wrote a book about a case he won by giving an alternative
scenario that fit the circumstantial evidence against his client that
now showed him innocent. The innocent alternative was as plausible as
the one showing him guilty and he walked. The same thing occurs in the
Merchant of Venice. The only thing that makes "Shylock the killer
alternative" plausible is that he is a Jew. Shylock is nothing but a
medieval version of today's banker and these types do not go about
cutting up defaulting clients.

Hence Shylock is an innocent suffering servant, wronged by his
persecutors who number him among the transgressors.

David Basch

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Florence Amit <
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Date:           Friday, 08 Jul 2005 10:29:56 +0300
Subject:        Subject: Shylock as Suffering Servant

Come, Come, and sit you down; you shall not budge;
You go not till I set you up a glass
Where you will see the inmost part of you.
Hamlet: IV, iii, 19-21

Hamlet forces the sanguine Gertrude to regard herself in the mirror of
his understanding and to compare two sovereigns. She is deeply affected
by what she is made to see.

Such an experience Shakespeare would have his audience undergo when he
presents a Silver casket of Christian zeal to their representative in
The Merchant of Venice. Like Gertrude, The Prince of Arragon is so
particularly confident that he deserves all that he desires, not least,
the consummation of his suit for Portia, that he fails to consider that
a silvered casket is, primarily, a box with a reflective surface. Had he
but noticed the vain man mirrored there, he might have been saved the
embarrassment of finding the idiot inside. The application to Antonio
can be applied to ourselves: Since we are given to accept stupid
productions of The Merchant of Venice as true Shakespeare we can see by
that a reflection of our own shallowness and like Arrogon, we receive
the quality of art that we deserve. While the presumptions that permit
our certitude and ARROGance - regarding the Jews - is pure idiocy

A key to dramatic insight for The Merchant of Venice is to realize that
the play's Jewish and crypto Jewish characters totally reject Christian
notions about them and use those preconceptions to provoke the play's
action - creating a satire.  Subterfuge has been noted by Edna Krane,
which, given the political absolutism in England she names irony.
How-ever, England is not the right location and the condition has a more
theatrical application than local politics.

Exaggerating the ridiculous is second nature for working actors like
William Shakespeare. His Prince Hamlet perceives that the mannerisms of
Polonius will likely become the recreation for a defenseless troupe of
players. He does not caution them for political innuendo in the manner
of Edna Krane's review. "Mockery" is the term he uses.  It is He, the
Prince and his close associates who insert political references, not the
players who, in essence, represent the Danish populace. Similarly, if it
is established that for the comic satire of "The Merchant of Venice"
Jews and crypto Jews are its milieu as they carry on with their
livelihoods, betrothals and deaths while trying to avoid the
provocations of the Italian inquisition, then English applications will
be deemed inappropriate, both to the genre and to the condition of those
characters, who have quite enough to worry about. (Albeit, there is an
oblique reference to the Marrano physician, Rodrigo Lopez, hanged in
London.) Just as may be the case for transient Danish players, mockery
manifested and nothing more ominous remains the a priori choice to
evaluate and comment upon menacing local Christians by the play's
assembly of transients with Jewish lineage, while they attempt to find a
better sanctuary.

Although mockery articulates the play's satiric genre its dominance has
become blurred by the incongruous notions of "hate" and "revenge" which
belong to Shylock's assumed characterization. They are presumed to be
the germane convictions of the artist. Were we to regard the Jewish
every day reality on stage or in life, such attitudes would never be
entertained. Shylock's mimic of Gentile assumptions and their behavior
with his friends' concurrence and even initiation, was a liberty of
Shakespeare in order to further the play's action and to show off the
absurdities of Christian prejudices.  It is a kind of Purim Shpiel. Alas
the presentation has been misunderstood in the "naughty world" of
literary criticism. The truth is that Shylock's, "bait, for catching" a
Christian "fish with all" is a purposeful performance to convince the
friends of a "good" Christian "man" to rescue him from his bond by a
court decision that may hopefully allow the daughter of an accused
felon, rather than a resident Jew headed for ghetto enclosure, to gain a
dowry.  The play has been taken all too literally by theatre goers over
the centuries. "The Merchant of Venice" is a drama of directed
dualities. How 'ironic', indeed, that the same material, that reforms
the attitude of Antonio, tricks-up Salerio and Solanio, and causes the
Duke to make a most uncharacteristic decision has been accepted by those
who see the play to be the end design of a very humane artist.

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