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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: June ::
The Big Question
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0560  Wednesday, 14 June 2006

From: 		Donald Bloom <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 13 Jun 2006 09:04:39 -0500
Subject: 17.0555 The Big Question
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0555 The Big Question

To Joe Egert: Those who justify (to whatever degree) "B" in the example 
are not straw men, and I refer him to the posting from Frank Whigham for 
an instance.

To Frank Whigham: I did not have you in mind when I wrote the post, so 
I'm sorry if it sounded like a personal affront.

To the issue at hand:

The example of "B" is, perhaps, definitive, even if it has been worked 
over many times. B has a legal bargain to lend a certain sum of money to 
A, for which A puts up his life as security. Leaving aside the insanity 
of there being allowed such a bargain, A defaults and B demands the 
payment of A's life. Money is made available from another source to pay 
off the defaulted loan. B refuses and continues to demand that A be 
legally killed in accordance with the initial bargain. FW is correct in 
noting that the phrase "judicial murder" generates certain problems in 
meaning, but I use it with full consciousness of that fact. Although I 
can be called to account as to what "murder" can mean when modified by 
"judicial," so can FW as to why he can say that what B does is not murder.

I would not ordinarily care about such matters-seeking a vote, as he 
suggests, as to who's right-until I start reading responses that appear 
to justify B in what he does, and to suggest that Shakespeare also 
justifies him.

At this point I make a moralistic demand: do you seriously mean what you 
seem to mean, that spitting and name-calling justify murder? Do you 
seriously think that Shakespeare felt they justified it?

These are, of course, two separate issues. The first requires some 
explanation of the general moral context that excuses a horrendous crime 
when it is hate-based. I find this a dubious idea indeed, but I have 
probably misunderstood. In any case, it doesn't relate to Shakespeare 
until it is applied to him as part of an interpretation.

This, then, is the second issue. To what extent can this idea be found 
in Shakespeare's works so that we can have some assurance that the IB 
actually held such an idea? It is a challenging possibility and would 
require my changing my responses to many of the plays if I concluded 
that it was correct. But there are lots of possibilities out there, and 
as time allows I consider them.

FW is right in suggesting that I don't care as much as he does about the 
origin and operation of hatred. De gustibus and all that. I do care 
about clarifying as much as possible the moral nature of a given act 
when an expected response is questioned or even attacked. It is not that 
my moral ideals are right (of course, I believe they are or I wouldn't 
hold them), but that I cannot discuss the issue with any hope of gaining 
a deeper understanding of the play if I don't understand the moral 
context of the person I'm discussing it with.

This post is rather long, and for that I apologize. But I hope it is not 
irrelevant. Plays consist of actions and actions always have a moral 
nature. Because there is widespread agreement about the moral content 
the vast majority of these actions, they are not "morality-free." In any 
discussion of WS we have to know what our own moral context is and how 
we are applying it.

Cheers,
don

PS. For example, why does my morality allow me to condemn Shylock and 
justify Hamlet? Is it because I like the latter and detest the former 
(and is thus logically invalid)? Or is it because there is a crucial 
difference in what they try to do?

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