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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: June ::
The Big Question
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0566  Thursday, 15 June 2006

[1] 	From: 	Edmund Taft <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 14 Jun 2006 12:23:31 -0400
	Subj: 	The Big Question

[2] 	From: 	S. L Kasten <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 15 Jun 2006 01:43:25 +0200
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0560 The Big Question

[3] 	From: 	Joseph Egert <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 15 Jun 2006 14:26:56 +0000
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0560 The Big Question


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Edmund Taft <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 14 Jun 2006 12:23:31 -0400
Subject: 	The Big Question

Don Bloom writes,

 >"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."

I don't know of anybody, either on this list or in recent criticism, who 
has argued that Shylock is completely justified in what he wants to do 
to Antonio. That's the straw man in Don's argument. He opposes a 
position that nobody really takes. I wonder why.

Perhaps because it's easier than confronting the full context of the 
play, which strongly suggests that non-Puritans and non-Calvinists in 
Shakespeare's audience do not have to take a narrow, legalistic view of 
what happens on the stage in the trial scene. We can be relieved that 
Antonio is spared, a bit disgusted with him for his histrionic attempt 
to show Antonio how much he loves him; intrigued by Portia's cleverness, 
shocked by the vicious racism of Solanio and Solario, and also saddened 
by Shylock's end and convinced that, whatever the Christians think, 
justice was not REALLY tempered with mercy.

A broader view of the play strongly suggests that its real focus is 
insiders vs. outsiders, with the added insight that, for outsiders, the 
game is always rigged: the dominant culture will find a way to "win." 
Sort of like Ralph Ellison's "King of the Bingo Game."

Don may think that this view was "unavailable" to Elizabethans. I do not.

Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		S. L Kasten <
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Date: 		Thursday, 15 Jun 2006 01:43:25 +0200
Subject: 17.0560 The Big Question
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0560 The Big Question

On the question of judicial murder, Donald Bloom, comes to a seemingly 
reasonable conclusion that it all boils down to "De gustibus and all 
that." In that vein he may enjoy the following take on Portia.

Robert Jackson, at the time associate professor of zoology at the 
University of Canterbury in New Zealand, titled an article on the object 
of his study in the Nov 1996 issue of National Geographic "Portia 
Spider, Mistress of deception".  The opening sentences are:

"Trespassing with intent to kill, Portia fimbriata stands on another 
spider's web and plucks at the silken threads, imitating the vibrations 
made by a mosquito, the victims prey.  Like Shakespeare's Merchant of 
Venice heroine.  This Portia disguises itself to trick its enemies. 
This eight-legged version stages elaborate masquerades to sneak up on 
other spiders - or lure them within striking distance."

In any case Bloom is hung up on "spitting".  With all the interest over 
the years in translating the Bible into the vernacular any intelligent 
native of England up to Shakespeare's time must have asked where the 
Jews got to.  The banishment of the Jews in 1291 must have been common 
knowledge.  Donald, understand this if you can: for better or for worse, 
with respect to Jews and the English "spitting" was a euphemism for what 
happened in York at that time, just as "holocaust" is a sanitization of 
what happened to the Jews of Europe between 1933 and 1945.

As to the original question of Shakespeare as moralist I don't think the 
question is one of who is guilty and why.  I rather think it devolves on 
how the work affects the individual member of the audience or the reader.

Thus, reading Henry IV Pt. I as an adolescent helped me with certain 
issues vis a vis my father.  I came away from my first Shakespeare at 
the age of 12 with "Plague of a pickled herring" and the fact that 
practical jokes have their limits and are basically inhumane.  Later on, 
I recognized my self, to my horror, in the jealousy of Iago, and, to my 
chagrin, in the weakness of Anne with the knife in her hand.  My heart 
went out to Leontes not because I justified his paranoia but because in 
ever so a minor degree I had tasted it.  And on and on.

Now, the above, including the first paragraphs, is totally subjective 
and reflects some of my own sensitivities.  I do believe, however, that 
somehow Shakespeare was able in developing his characters to draw from 
life with a true and subtle hand not seen, as far as I know, theretofore 
and rarely since.  In doing so he deals with issues such as loyalty and 
its tests in its various expressions, trust, and the various emotions, 
all of which have moral implications.

Reflecting life, he doesn't end with "And the moral of the story is 
.....  But in giving the hero, the "villain" and the victim a voice he 
somehow taps into the reader's aspirations, fears, disappointments, 
highlights the conflicts and by and large leaves him with the thought 
that they are somehow manageable if handled with care, "manageable" 
meaning coming out of it feeling well with oneself and with others with 
respect to what's right and what's wrong.   This implies a sensitivity 
in the reader upon which the author is operating.

But that is just me.  I think that most people have this sensitivity.  I 
feel sorry for those who don't.  Someone in the list once claimed that 
anyone who enjoyed Mozart had a tin ear. Too bad for him!

Best wishes,
Syd Kasten

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Joseph Egert <
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Date: 		Thursday, 15 Jun 2006 14:26:56 +0000
Subject: 17.0560 The Big Question
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0560 The Big Question

Don Bloom writes:

 >To Joe Egert: Those who justify (to whatever degree) "B" in the
 >example are not straw men

I used "straw man" to refer to Don's as yet unsupported slander of 
justifying murder, and not to any individual. My apologies for not 
making that clear.

Don Bloom continues:

 >FW [sic] 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 [sic]
 >as to why he can say that what B does is not murder.

 >At this point I make a moralistic demand: do you seriously mean what
 >you seem to mean, that spitting and name-calling justify murder? [...] 
                                                          >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 [...]
 >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?

If Don will permit me to speak for "FW" (a Freudian slight?), we still 
await his explanation of the phrase "judicial murder". It is the heart 
of the matter. Nor has he yet cited a single example, quote or 
otherwise, of any member justifying murder for "spitting and 
name-calling." The issue is one of attempted homicide by "B" of suicidal 
"A".  Can one properly interpret, judge, or differentiate characters' 
acts  ('what they try to do")  without reference to motive ("de gustibus 
and all that") and context, as Frank Whigham so ably elucidates?

Regards,
Joe Egert (JE) 


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