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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: June ::
The Big Question
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0580  Wednesday, 21 June 2006

[1] 	From: 	Edmund Taft <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 20 Jun 2006 14:09:24 -0400
	Subj: 	The Big Question

[2] 	From: 	William Godshalk <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 20 Jun 2006 14:43:57 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0577 The Big Question

[3] 	From: 	JD Markel <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 20 Jun 2006 13:34:09 -0700 (PDT)
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0577 The Big Question

[4] 	From: 	S. L Kasten  <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 21 Jun 2006 02:28:10 +0200
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0577 The Big Question

[5] 	From: 	Sam Small <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 21 Jun 2006 12:05:04 +0100
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0577 The Big Question


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Edmund Taft <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 20 Jun 2006 14:09:24 -0400
Subject: 	The Big Question

Don Bloom writes:

 >"If, as Ed Taft has suggested, everyone agrees with me (that Shylock is a
 >murderer, and a particularly cruel and malicious one), then I am indeed
 >beating up a straw man and will drop the subject."

I didn't write that, Don. And that's the heart of the problem. You 
oversimplify in order to achieve clarity - and the result is a view that 
others disagree with. I wrote that no one on this list (or in criticism 
I've read recently) thinks that Shylock is fully or completely justified 
in seeking a pound of flesh that will end Antonio's life.

Let's use an analogy: today, juries often face the agonizing decision 
whether or not a defendant has committed "justifiable homicide." In an 
all-too typical case, a wife has been terrorized by a husband - abused 
mentally and physically, called names, reviled, and perhaps even spit 
upon - not once but many times. One day, she makes a plan, and with 
malice aforethought, waits until her husband is asleep and cuts out his 
heart.

I guess to you this is an easy case, eh? The husband is guiltless and 
innocent, and the wife cruel, depraved, heartless, and malicious. If so, 
you are entitled to your view, but even the law recognizes that such a 
case is not black and white and not easy to decide properly. The reason: 
the constant mistreatment and provocation of the husband.

The case with Shylock and Antonio is much the same as the hypothetical 
case above. Shakespeare could have made the case against Shylock 
airtight by omitting references to the relationship between Shylock and 
Antonio in the past. But he has deliberately chosen NOT to do that. He 
puts in the very context that makes it difficult for us to decide the 
case easily. Clearly, that's his intent.

Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		William Godshalk <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 20 Jun 2006 14:43:57 -0400
Subject: 17.0577 The Big Question
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0577 The Big Question

I realize that book recommendations are not plentiful in this discussion 
group, but I would like to recommend Richard Levin's two essays on MV in 
his book Love and Society in Shakespearean Comedy (Newark: U Delaware P, 
1985). One of the points he makes is that in Shakespeare's England 
"inclusion and exclusion were decisive events." And they certainly are 
in MV.

Bill

[Editor's Note: I agree with Bill here that there have not been many 
book recommendations of late on SHAKSPER. Since recommending books and 
discussing them seems to me a perfectly proper function of an 
international scholarly community, I would like to encourage that we 
engage in such behaviors.]

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		JD Markel <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 20 Jun 2006 13:34:09 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 17.0577 The Big Question
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0577 The Big Question

Paul E. Doniger writes: "Is there an earlier book or paper by Yaffe?"

Not that I know.  Cites re: the "Shylock as the bad Jew not living up to 
Jewish law" theme all seemed to lead back to Yaffe's "Shylock and the 
Jewish Question."  Many thanks for the information about John Barton and 
Stewart showing the theme predated when I thought it began.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		S. L Kasten  <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 21 Jun 2006 02:28:10 +0200
Subject: 17.0577 The Big Question
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0577 The Big Question

First of all, though Don Bloom is right in pointing out that neither he 
nor I have a direct pipeline to the Elizabethan psyche, I am grateful to 
him for determining that the XIIIth century events I referred to in my 
recent post remained part of the English narrative for at least two 
centuries following the staging of MOV.

Second, neither Joe Egert or I want to justify the death of Antonio. For 
all I know, Egert, unlike myself, may be against capital judgment in 
general.  We are just trying to help Don understand the rage that 
clouded Shylock's mind and kept him from saying "Right on! I'll squeeze 
out every drop of blood/ and give it back forthwith...", or some such 
that Kyd or Marlow could have easily come up with.  That would be evil 
indeed.  Instead he gives in, one might say in relief.  I have a strong 
feeling that most Germans have demonstrated sincere contrition for the 
acts of their fathers. I know personally of at least one who spent the 
war in prison.  I respect them and my heart goes out to them.  But when 
I went to Poland to see the slant of the sun in the town my parents grew 
up in and from which their own parents and brothers were deported to be 
made ashes and smoke I declined to go to Auschwitz.  The rage, the rage, 
and nowhere to direct it.  This Jew uses "holocaust" only in this kind 
of setting.  This euphonious dactyl and its Greek meaning don't come 
close to encompassing the range of abomination that it is supposed to 
represent.

Third, there is no judicial murder in the play. By Don's logic Antonio 
committed suicide when he signed the contract.  It was clear to Shylock 
at the time that the loan was a good one.  He expected to get his money 
back. But every merchant knows the risks and as we know Antonio did not 
sign in a fit of euphoria.  He was suffering from depression.  And if he 
committed suicide in signing, he was as good as dead (at least in the 
sense of Schroedinger's cat) and if he was dead how could he be murdered?

Fourthly, the courts exist precisely to adjudicate between claimants. 
In doing so they take the matter out of the hands of the claimants so 
that the matter will be resolved on the merits of the case and not on 
the basis of revenge or intimidation.  The hand is Shylock's but it is 
the court that rules on the execution.  Shylock's rage would have been 
satisfied if the Duke were to have voided the contract, thus 
demonstrating hypocrisy of the Venetian system.  Replace Antonio with a 
poor widow with children who defaulted on her mortgage, and Shylock with 
a land speculator who wanted to build a high-rise on the property there 
would be no talk of mercy or softly falling dew.

And with regard to Shylock as a bad Jew, surprise, another coincidence. 
  The basis of orthodox Jewish custom is the Babylonian Talmud.  The 
tractate Avodah Zarah, or Idolatry, defines the limits of day to day 
relationships between Jew and Gentile.  On the very first page we find 
the injunction against partaking of wine and cheese with Gentiles, and 
the reason is given: to prevent fraternization that will lead to 
intermarriage between the offspring.  Any of you out there who have 
anything to do with Orthodox Jews must be familiar with this abstention.

As pointed out Shylock starts the play in compliance.  Later on in the 
play he accepts an invitation to dine with the Christians.  His 
comeuppance is swift and appropriate, a kind of measure for measure.  By 
the end play he is what he has become. My high school teachers had a 
name for this sort evolution of character.

Finally, Shakespeare is careful in inserting Tubal, a quiet, faithful 
and caring person, to let us know that Shylock does not stand for all 
the Jews in Venice.

Best wishes,
Syd Kasten

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Sam Small <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 21 Jun 2006 12:05:04 +0100
Subject: 17.0577 The Big Question
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0577 The Big Question

Interesting as the discourse certainly is I have to return to my 
original question that I considered "big".  If Shakespeare is the 
greatest poet/playwright/writer pretty much 'ever' what effect has he 
had on the world?  Are we better off for his writings?  Has he made any 
difference? Is there a measurable improvement in the way the world 
behaves in the last 400 years?  If so how do we measure it?  If the 
world is a better place is it Shakespeare and/or all the other writers 
or social reformers and politicians?  If so were they affected by 
Shakespeare and/or other writers?

Phew . . .

SAM SMALL

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