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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: June ::
The Big Question
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0568  Friday, 16 June 2006

[1] 	From: 	John Crowley <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 15 Jun 2006 16:24:35 -0400
	Subj: 	Big Question

[2] 	From: 	William Godshalk <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 15 Jun 2006 20:07:20 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0566 The Big Question

[3] 	From: 	Marcus Dahl <
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	Date: 	Friday, 16 Jun 2006 02:22:56 -0700 (PDT)
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0566 The Big Question

[4] 	From: 	Donald Bloom <
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	Date: 	Friday, 16 Jun 2006 11:45:43 -0500
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0566 The Big Question


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		John Crowley <
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Date: 		Thursday, 15 Jun 2006 16:24:35 -0400
Subject: 	Big Question

Don writes:

 >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?

I think in both instances some part of the difficulty arises from 
Shakespeare's complexity of thought and speech brought to bear on older 
romance material, creating ambiguities that we break our heads and 
delight our ears over when we regard the works as consciously produced 
artistic wholes.  It's a little like similar fruitful ambiguities 
arising in the Gospels, arising from the synthetic or accumulative 
nature of the texts being viewed as perfect (even divinely guided) 
wholes.  Shylock is a comic villain/Jew, and a criminal, and a monster, 
and deserves everything he gets, in the standard telling of a tale like 
this; it's just that Shakespeare never leaves such things alone, but 
creates as he goes, deepening and expanding.  David Lodge has some 
thoughts of interest on this in his book Consciousness and the Novel, 
about how a work of fiction is created as it is made, rather than being 
the executing of a scheme already in existence.  Hamlet's an even better 
example of ambiguities arising from a complex character created as 
Shakespeare thinks (the first modern man, as Bloom says, overhearing 
himself create himself) intermixed into a standard revenge tragedy in 
which we would only be appalled by his acts even if within our society 
we had to approve them.  Don's moral queries remain, but they can't be 
solved *in Shakespeare* because they are the insoluble products of a 
mixed process, and their insolubility is their attraction.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		William Godshalk <
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Date: 		Thursday, 15 Jun 2006 20:07:20 -0400
Subject: 17.0566 The Big Question
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0566 The Big Question

 >"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.'"

Ed is totally on target here. The insiders are, generally, the Italians; 
the outsiders, anyone else. In 1.2 Portia and Nerissa get the ball 
rolling with a barrage of ethnic slurs, e.g. the Englishman is a dumb 
show, the German a drunk. Later both Arragon (who has "the wisdom by 
[his] wit to lose") and Morocco are dismissed: "Let all of his 
complexion choose me so" (2.7.79). And in 4.1 Portia puts the most 
visible outsider in his place.

Bill

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Marcus Dahl <
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Date: 		Friday, 16 Jun 2006 02:22:56 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 17.0566 The Big Question
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0566 The Big Question

Dear All,

Just a quick note on this one - (slightly lateral but I think relevant 
to the point under discussion here):

On the question of 'mercy', 'justice', 'the law' and 'jewishness' in The 
Merchant of Venice - Professor Gilles Monsarat has recently published 
what I consider to be the most balanced well researched and incisive 
article on the play I have read for a while -  "Shylock and Mercy" in 
'Cahiers Elisabethains, A Biannual Journal of English Renaissance 
Studies', Spring 2005, Number 67.

His central thesis (I reduce alas) is that Shylock is a bad Jew who by 
his unrelenting will to extract the pound of flesh (kill Antonio) 
repudiates the Jewish and Christian exhortation to Mercy and thereby 
brings about his own downfall.

The article and its contents are too long to repeat with sufficient 
depth here but I quote from the concluding paragraph:

'If the reader realizes, or if the spectator can be made to realize, 
that the Duke and Portia hope that Shylock will, in spite of his 
refusal, finally show mercy because his own religion requires him to do 
so, if Portia's "we do pray for mercy" is common to Jews and Christians 
- it is clear that Shylock is above all an evil and merciless usurer and 
that he behaves as he does not because he is a Jew, a true 
representative of the "nation" he belongs to, but because he is void of 
both religious and humane feelings....'

Another central point is that Shylock wishes Antonio "out of Venice" 
because Antonio has relieved others from 'from [Shylock's] forfeitures'. 
Shylock's first love is money.

All best,
Marcus

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Donald Bloom <
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Date: 		Friday, 16 Jun 2006 11:45:43 -0500
Subject: 17.0566 The Big Question
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0566 The Big Question

Okay, here we go.

Ed Taft: I had nothing at that moment to say about the game being rigged 
against outsiders, nor whether a knowledge of this fact was available to 
Shakespeare's audience. I was speaking only of the morality involved in 
justifiable (or, rather, unjustifiable) homicide.

In the specific instance, I was trying to establish whether some readers 
of MOV considered Shylock's grievances against Antonio sufficient to 
justify his attempt to have Antonio killed, and if so, how their system 
of morality operated to allow that.

If we are in agreement that what Shylock attempts to do is harmful and 
unjustifiable, and therefore evil, then we can go on to other subjects. 
  If we aren't, then I need to know how the moral system operates that 
disagrees that that judgment. If it is too radically different from my 
own, then discussion is impossible and there's an end to it.

Joe Egert: I use "judicial murder" to refer to the use (or misuse) of 
the law to cause the death of another person without any justification 
on grounds of self-defense or other need.

I have and had no intention of slandering you "of justifying murder," 
which I presume you would never do. But if Shylock is not attempting to 
murder Antonio, what is he doing? How do we define murder that excludes 
this act from condemnation?

Syd Kasten: You write, "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."

I'm having trouble keeping track of the relationships of Biblical 
translation, what intelligent Elizabethan Englishmen wondered about, the 
banishment of the Jews, spitting (are you referring roasting on a spit 
as happens to Rebecca's poor father in "Ivanhoe" (if memory serves)?), 
and the use of the word "holocaust" (which is, as far as I know, the 
preferred term of most Jews) to each other. Nor, for that matter, to 
Shakespeare.

I have no desire to make this discussion a personal matter.

As to the injustices, and occasional horrors, of anti-Semitism, I need 
no enlightenment. That it appears in MOV, and is pretty disgusting, I 
freely admit. That it justifies murder, I deny.

Cheers,
don

PS: Isn't the game always rigged against outsiders? Isn't that essential 
to the definition of "outsider"?

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