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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: June ::
The Big Question
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0572  Monday, 19 June 2006

[1] 	From: 	Aaron Azlant <
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	Date: 	Friday, 16 Jun 2006 13:56:41 -0700
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0568 The Big Question

[2] 	From: 	JD Markel <
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	Date: 	Friday, 16 Jun 2006 18:10:19 -0700 (PDT)
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0568 The Big Question

[3] 	From: 	Joseph Egert <
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	Date: 	Sunday, 18 Jun 2006 23:22:20 +0000
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0568 The Big Question


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Aaron Azlant <
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Date: 		Friday, 16 Jun 2006 13:56:41 -0700
Subject: 17.0568 The Big Question
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0568 The Big Question

Dear all,

Just a quick note: John makes a great point about the complexity of 
Shakespeare's thought and I can't really add much about he concept of 
'judicial murder', but I do think that the underlying issue may have 
less to do with any consistent position held by the play than with the 
manner in which the play's many positions are presented to its audience.

One of the things that WS seems to develop over time is a way of getting 
his audience to quietly accept contrary ideas simultaneously, so that, 
for instance, we accept Shylock both as villain of /The Merchant of 
Venice/ and as its victim, depending on who is in the scene and how it 
is framed. This might also explain why we accept "and if you wrong us, 
shall we not revenge?" as a logical conclusion to his "hath not a Jew 
eyes" speech, which should really be gearing up rhetorically to make its 
case for mercy.

A great essay on this is Norman Rabkin's chapter on the play in 
_Shakespeare and the Problem of Meaning_; similar phenomena occur in 
/Julius Caesar/, /Hamlet/ and a bunch of the other plays as well.

--Aaron

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		JD Markel <
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Date: 		Friday, 16 Jun 2006 18:10:19 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 17.0568 The Big Question
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0568 The Big Question

D Bloom writes:

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

But you have done so and I find your opinions interesting.  Thanks.

S L Kasten writes:

"Portia fimbriata"

--Googled it.  That is one scary-looking creature. I don't think our 
Portia's "supposed beauty" is that bad...

M Dahl writes:

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

--And brings down the rate of usance.  It's one of the motives 
profferred by the script but not often argued a central motive.  Worth 
considering.  Shakespeare's own usurer father might have instilled in 
Will such hate for types like Antonio.  Or the hate may have grown from 
Will's own usury side-business.  I think the audience had other reasons 
to hate Antonio, but another day..

Gilles wrote elsewhere:  "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....'

The idea Shakespeare intended to show a "bad Jew" not living up to 
Jewish law is ridiculous.  The play's best punchline is "These be the 
Christian husbands!"  It could be the title of the play. There is no 
"This be the Jewish usurer!"  The play is in large part a satire of 
putative Christians not living up to Christian ideals and values. 
Shining a light on cultural or religious hypocrisy that breaks the 
expectations of the culture or religion of audience the play is written 
for is not unusual fare for comedy.  Insofar the play is normatively 
didactic it concerns proper Christian conduct not Jewish, but I don't 
expect people would pay for what they already get in church.  The 
incantations that the character Shylock is evil, merciless, monstrous, 
[add favorite invective here], are Gratiano-like without the ironic 
context Bassanio's warning and humiliating riposte.  I think the idea 
"bad Jew" line originated in a book by Martin Yaffe, though it was a 
more complex issue for him.

Shakespeare did add a kosher twist to the commedia ploy of the 
invitation that gets the widower out of the house so his daughter can be 
stolen therefrom.  Shy. first rejects Bassanio's oral offer to dine 
together thinking there would be dining on pork.  Later he gets a 
written invitation to the feast and accepts it, the possibility of 
social acceptance overcoming his intuition he shouldn't go.  Next 
Jessica loots and flies the coop.   Just punishment for going to a feast 
where pork will be eaten?  Something to think about, but I think the 
pork angle is merely an embellishment to the flaw of accepting the 
invitation.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Joseph Egert <
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Date: 		Sunday, 18 Jun 2006 23:22:20 +0000
Subject: 17.0568 The Big Question
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0568 The Big Question

Once more unto the breach!

Don Bloom explains:

 >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.

While sympathizing with its emotive thrust, I nonetheless find the 
explanation as confusing and circular as the phrase itself.

Don goes on to plead: "I have no desire to make this discussion a 
personal matter." But earlier we hear:

 >I have and had no intention of slandering you [Joe Egert] "of justifying
 >murder," which I presume you would never do.

Another straw man? Rest assured, Don. I took no personal umbrage from 
your remarks, but thanks for your generous presumption of my innocence. 
I merely tried to elicit the ocular proof from Don substantiating his 
earlier charge against unidentified List members, alas in vain. A single 
quote would have sufficed. Instead, Don has now adjusted his position to 
"trying to establish" what he apparently had already established earlier 
in his mind. Progress, of a sort.

Marcus Dahl  accurately reports Monsarat's central thesis in his 
"Shylock and Mercy"  that "Shylock is a bad Jew" of murderous 
unrelenting will in repudiation of both Jewish and Christian 
exhortations to mercy. His conclusion? "Shylock is above all an evil and 
merciless usurer [who] behaves as he does not because he is a Jew [...] 
but because he is void of both religious and humane feelings..." After 
all, "Shylock's first love is money."

But Marcus, was the Iewe always so unrelenting, or only after being 
abandoned and fleeced of his ducats by his own now gilded daughter, a 
second Golden Fleece for one more golddigger? Clearly Jessica has 
forebodings of inevitable desertion by her newly bought Christian 
spouse, just as she has deserted her father in kind.

Was Shylock always so evil and merciless? Does he not behave as he does 
precisely because he is irrevocably a Jew to Gentile eyes, a stranger in 
a strange land, Ed Taft's outsider, the alien within, the quintessential 
Other, against whom the Gentiles proudly and relentlessly define themselves?

Is Shylock, as depicted, truly void of human feelings, this man never" 
bid for love" by his Gentile compatriots? the man who amid his rage and 
tears would never surrender his Leah's ring for a wilderness of monkeys?

Is Shylock's first love truly money? Restricted to a life of usury by 
law, even that life undercut by Antonio's loud generosity, is not the 
prop that sustains his house and livelihood under threat? Could Shylock 
be the man at trial who will not surrender his bond for any Christian 
bribe, no "not for Venice"?

If the Forum will indulge one last personal note, my folks, may they 
rest in peace, were Jewish immigrants to America, escaping the war-torn 
European Hell of the Forties--a future SHAKSPERian bouncing in their 
arms. My father's first wife and two young daughters were murdered while 
he was away fighting on the Russian front. My mother's aged father and 
baby sister were murdered while she survived hiding in the woods with 
partisans. As a youngster growing up in Freedom's Land, I once asked my 
father: What are Gentiles like? His full reply, oozing with bemused 
contempt: "They swap their wives." From then on to this day, each time I 
hear Shylock's "These be the Christian husbands", I hear my father and 
ask myself: How does Shakespeare know? How does he know? Remarkable!

Joe Egert

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