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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: July ::
Shylock as Suffering Servant
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1263  Friday, 29 July 2005

[1]     From:   Stuart Manger <
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        Date:   Thursday, 28 Jul 2005 17:04:35 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1255 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[2]     From:   D Bloom <
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        Date:   Thursday, 28 Jul 2005 11:54:05 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.1255 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[3]     From:   Florence Amit <
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        Date:   Thursday, 28 Jul 2005 20:09:49 +0300
        Subj:   SHK 16.1240 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[4]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Thursday, 28 Jul 2005 13:41:39 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1255 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[5]     From:   John Drakakis <
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        Date:   Thursday, 28 Jul 2005 20:06:51 +0100
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.1255 Shylock as Suffering Servant

[6]     From:   Joseph Egert <
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        Date:   Thursday, 28 Jul 2005 22:11:45 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1255 Shylock as Suffering Servant


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stuart Manger <
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Date:           Thursday, 28 Jul 2005 17:04:35 +0100
Subject: 16.1255 Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1255 Shylock as Suffering Servant

Where on earth is Florence Amit coming from?

In this play, Shylock is depicted as and used dramatically as a villain.
He is never a 'good Jew'. Yes, there are

moments when Shak shows him suffering, and he begs to be treated
humanely, but the very fact that he has to be given

that speech surely shows Shak knew exactly what kinds of instantly
recognisable stereotypes he was trading by

depicting Shylock the way he was. Think how he sketches in the pathos
about Falstaff at the end of 2H4 - 'Good

Fellowship' rejected?

Did the 2H4 audience weep Or go 'aaaah!' I keep asking the question -
how would the Elizabethan audience have reacted

to Shylock's misery, and I am willing to take large bets that they would
have been hooting with derision and mocking

his anguish over Jessica given what he does all the time elsewhere in
the play.  He is machiavellian, vengeful,

self-pitying, calculating, is trying to smother his daughter, refuses to
listen even to his own team, cannot see the

writing on the wall in the trial scene, so blinded is he by his desire
for a particularly murderous and public form of

revenge. Yes, and the Christians are nasty pieces of work too. Which is
why the healing through love involving Jew and

Gentile in Act 5 is so important. Not a lot of it around up till then!

Come, on, people, Shylock is just a stage villain!

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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Date:           Thursday, 28 Jul 2005 11:54:05 -0500
Subject: 16.1255 Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.1255 Shylock as Suffering Servant

Stuart Manger writes

 >"What scares me a lot is that Shakespeare is the lost boy in all this as
 >we squabble and jostle and scream [about MOV]."

I have to agree. It seems to me that the mainstream (which, we are told,
is clutching at straws) has gotten itself so

confused about the play that it opens the door (another mixed metaphor)
to more weird interpretation than any other

play.

If you get away from all the guilt about the cruelties and injustices of
anti-semitism, the play is not too difficult

to understand. It is a romantic comedy with a strong but very feminine
and loving heroine. The basis of the romance

plot is the folk-tale story of the three caskets- pretty straightforward
whether you like it or not.

The romance plot is linked to the deadly bargain or wager plot, since it
would not be possible for the hero to win the

heroine without the help of his friend who offers himself in the deadly
bargain. This is generally found to be the

most interesting as it leads to the most dramatic crisis in the play and
involves the most interesting characters.

The villain accepts the bargain because he hates the friend and,
desiring to kill him, finds that he can do so by the

other using his life as collateral for a loan on which he defaults. At
the last moment, the villain is defeated by the

heroine disguised as a learned man of law.

The main plot concludes with the lesson of the rings, whereby the
heroine lures the hero into a violation of trust by

playing on his relief and gratitude over the saving of his friend.

There is a sub-plot dealing with the escape of the villain's daughter
from her vicious father by eloping with and

marrying a friend of the characters in the main plot. A second one
involves the clown, who is the villain's servant

and who aids in the process.

If you leave out the names and ethnicity of the characters, it is very
easy to understand. You could set it

anywhere-even in Israel with a Jewish majority and a Palestinian
villain. It primarily deals with love and friendship,

secondarily with usury, hatred, justice and mercy, all of which can be
found anywhere.

As noted, though, Shakespeare sets it with a Christian majority and a
Jewish villain, and many people's capacity for

rational thought thereby goes to pieces. We don't want it to be a piece
of anti-semitic racism, and so we are

powerfully tempted to re-write it to expunge that ugly and embarrassing
undercurrent.

Of course, that attempt doesn't work, for we then have to re-interpret
the play to twist virtually everything WS said

about love, friendship, usury, etc. Because this process generates
interpretive incoherence, the metaphorical door is

left open and through it walks-well, enough said on that.

While it is quite reasonable to want the play to be free of the
anti-semitism that horrifies us, it is not reasonable

to make it incoherent by artificially eliminating that quality.

Cheers,
don

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Florence Amit <
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Date:           Thursday, 28 Jul 2005 20:09:49 +0300
Subject: Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        SHK 16.1240 Shylock as Suffering Servant

Dear Forum,

Last posting I did not address Steve Sohmer's evaluation that the "whole
play drives toward this moment of Balthazar's

query of "which is the merchant here and which the Jew. It is my opinion
that the play is climaxed by Antonio's and

Shylock's alternative views of the story of Laban. It is an important
portion in weekly readings from the Pentateuch

for observant Jews and within its scope there is the prototype for
'mirmah,' justifiable deception.  Jacob's savvy

tactic is contrasted to the exploitation and deceit of Laban. As such,
it is a major motif for "The Merchant of

Venice", where the Jews, like Jacob, try to outmaneuver a gang of
rapacious Venetian bureaucrats. Indeed the central

concept of MIRMAH - justifiable deception - supplies the play's satiric
genre with an emblem.

In a limited way, as Antonio mentions sarcastically, the portion
indicate the path by which a Jew might justify taking

a stipend for lending money; while Shylock really tries to bring Antonio
into his world by telling him the portion

precisely at the moment when he should be sealing his bond.

The reading is particularly applicable by recalling that Laban's
behavior also affected his daughters who bountifully

left the paternal dwelling for a home in a 'land of promise'.  Jessica's
departure with her espoused was surely on

Shylock's mind.

Central to the Laban story are its sheep and beginning with I,iii, the
imagery of sheep becomes very extensive and

reflective of the dissimilar religious canons that each man evokes with
its mention. So that when Antonio and Shylock

are in dialogue about sheep their misunderstandings are profound. They
are adversaries with a kind of resonance.

Yours, Florence

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Thursday, 28 Jul 2005 13:41:39 -0400
Subject: 16.1255 Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1255 Shylock as Suffering Servant

 >Evidently Antonio was obliged to wear a prison
 >uniform to court making him resemble Pantolone.

Why is this "evident"?  And what is there about a prison uniform that
suggests Pantolone?  Pantolone is a stock C d'A

old man, not a criminal.

In any event, scholarship has pretty well established that Elizabethan
staging did not involve elaborate costuming.

So conjuring up fanciful costumes from a febrile imagination cannot
support shifting the text's meaning to its

opposite.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Drakakis <
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Date:           Thursday, 28 Jul 2005 20:06:51 +0100
Subject: 16.1255 Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.1255 Shylock as Suffering Servant

Joseph Egert and Florence Amit can believe what they like. Let's stick
with the evidence. There were no openly

practising Jews in late 16th century England. James Shapiro might take
issue with this, but the evidence from the

Lopez affair is so thin as not to warrant serious consideration, and
from what we know about families such as the

Bassanos yields no evidence there beyond supposition.  There were,
however a number of CHRISTIAN usurers - common

complaint in a number of the usury tracts of the period. It is through
these tracts (i.e. the discursive fields in and

through which t6hey articulate their oppositions to usury) that the
'wolvishness' and the animality of the usurer

comes.  It is part of long tradition that Joshua Trachtenberg has
charted thoroughly.

What Shakespeare knew about Jews we do not know. We can make a shrewd
assessment of the religious vocabulary in and

through which the issue of usury was discussed.  It represents a
discursive field that stretches from before Luther

down to Mein Kampf and beyond.

What Shakespeare knew about Venetian theatrical traditions is also
anybody's guess. His sense of Venice was that of

many of his contemporaries: a republic that purported to be
non-hierarchical (note the complaint of Bishop Richard

Bancroft (1593), and long before him in 1561 Thomas's History of Italy.
Also a year before the first quarto of MV

Lewis Lewkenor's translation of Contarini's account of the government of
Venice.

What Florence Amit says about using Shakespeare to bolster our esteem
seems to me to be wholly beside the point.

Perhaps she, and others like her, should dismount from their partisan
hobby horses, separate out wild opinion from

what it is possible to substantiate, and entertain for one moment that
some of the positions represented in MV might

indicate a culture and a dramatist whose views we might, in the 21st
century now find odious. What rescues the play

from the charge of crass anti-semitism (and I am not being anachronistic
when I use the term) is its examination

(whether intentionally or not does not matter) of the structures of
prejudice.

We, like Shylock in the play, inhabit a world of debt, banks, the
borrowing of money etc. It is difficult for us to

imagine the kind of threat that the practices that we engage in daily
posed for late 16th century English society.

That is something that the play invites us to imagine.

As for Joseph Egert's imagination...I'd back Orgel's against his any
day: it demonstrates restraint where it is

necessary, and a willingness to speculate judiciously and within limits
when evidence requires. It's called

scholarship.

Cheers,
John Drakakis

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Joseph Egert <
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Date:           Thursday, 28 Jul 2005 22:11:45 +0000
Subject: 16.1255 Shylock as Suffering Servant
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1255 Shylock as Suffering Servant

Responding to my view that Shylock would not find justice, i.e. return
of his stolen property, "after her [Jessica's]

conversion...in those unEnlightened days," the redoubtable Larry Weiss
writes:
"The problem that the Duke and the other Christians had was how, if at
all, they could save Antonio's life in the face

of a clear forfeiture....If the issue were not the life of the
defendant, but only damages for conversion of the

plaintiff's property, it seems unlikely that the same court would have
found in favor of the Christian defendant

against the Jewish plaintiff for that reason alone."

The key conversion here is that of Jessica. Where would Shylock find a
jury of his peers or a true Daniel among racist

Portia's pack of hypocrites? Does anyone doubt she has a cornucopia of
quibbles up her sleeve to benefit Lorenzo and

his new Christian bride? Were the stolen goods in fact returned? The
entire trial is a sham and any decision void,

given her criminal imposture as a doctor of laws from Rome. She presumes
"to wear an undeserved dignity...deriv'd

corruptly" as is Lorenzo's newfound wealth.

Regards,
Joe Egert

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