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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: June ::
The Big Question
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0593  Friday, 23 June 2006

[1] 	From: 	Larry Weiss <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 22 Jun 2006 12:52:21 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0587 The Big Question

[2] 	From: 	Edmund Taft <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 22 Jun 2006 13:07:45 -0400
	Subj: 	The Big Question

[3] 	From: 	Donald Bloom <
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	Date: 	Friday, 23 Jun 2006 11:10:13 -0500
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0587 The Big Question


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Larry Weiss <
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Date: 		Thursday, 22 Jun 2006 12:52:21 -0400
Subject: 17.0587 The Big Question
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0587 The Big Question

 > One can even argue entrapment by Portia as mitigation.

I have heard people argue all sorts of absurdities, but this one won't 
get very far.  Portia did not inspire Shylock to try to kill Antonio 
when the idea had not previously occurred to him.  Both the idea and the 
plan were his; hence, no entrapment.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Edmund Taft <
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Date: 		Thursday, 22 Jun 2006 13:07:45 -0400
Subject: 	The Big Question

Concerning my analogy between the trial scene in _M of V_ and a modern 
instance of spousal abuse, Larry Weiss responds:

"There are ample legal remedies
available to an abused spouse, murder isn't one of them.  At most, the
circumstances might mitigate the punishment, they don't excuse the crime."

Right. And even though the same is NOT true for Shylock (what other 
"remedy" or recourse did he have?), no one to my knowledge argues that 
Shylock is totally justified in what he seeks to do to Antonio. On the 
other hand, Larry acknowledges the point I want to stress: 
"circumstances might mitigate the punishment." Another way of saying 
this is that we understand the reasons why the spouse did what she did, 
and we extend sympathy to her for what she underwent. The same goes for 
- or should go for - Shylock and his wish for revenge against Antonio. 
In both cases, punishment may be lessened.

One of the central questions in the _M of V_ trial scene is whether or 
not Shylock's punishment tempers justice with mercy or whether it only 
seems to. After all, Shylock ends the scene a broken man.

Ed Taft

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Donald Bloom <
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Date: 		Friday, 23 Jun 2006 11:10:13 -0500
Subject: 17.0587 The Big Question
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0587 The Big Question

Well, we've made a little progress. We've made clear that Ed assumes 
that I assume that someone on this list "thinks that Shylock is fully or 
completely justified in seeking a pound of flesh that will end Antonio's 
life." I am glad to hear that he thinks that no one thinks Shylock is so 
justified, but I am less confident than he that this is a fact.

The problem evidently lies in the modifiers "fully and completely." What 
I'm fighting here is a tendency toward vagueness and even evasion (not 
in Ed) that can, in my opinion, only be countered with a demand for a 
clear and simple judgment. If you are on the jury, how do you vote?

Alternatively do you justify heinous crimes on such grounds as the 
criminal's belonging to a group that has been subject to victimization 
in various times and places?

If the question is "partially" justify, then to what degree does insult 
partially justify cold-blooded murder?

My problem is not primarily theoretical, legal, or moral but textual: I 
do not find in Shakespeare's play any evidence of this "partial 
justification" of something as vicious as murder.

Ed's example of the wife who has been terrorized her husband ("abused 
mentally and physically, called names, reviled, and perhaps even spit 
upon - not once but many times") does not square with my reading of the 
play. Shylock has not been terrorized, he's been insulted. Can this 
possibly justify the killing of Antonio?

When you go to Act IV you meet a man gleeful at the prospect of killing 
the man who has insulted him, who crows about the idea of seeing a man 
cut open before his eyes. The man refuses the repayment of the bond by 
another. He refuses a triple repayment. He spurns the appeal to mercy. 
He delights in "Balthasar's" confirmation of the legality of his desired 
goal.

It's a man's life we're talking about, folks. If Antonio had murdered 
Jessica or Leah, I would accept Shylock's vindictiveness, though I 
wouldn't admire it. But Antonio has done no such thing. Not even close. 
  To fail to come to grips with this malevolent cruelty in Shylock 
seriously distorts our understanding of the play.

To Ed this may be simplistic, but it can't be helped. The supreme 
dramatic moment of this play is surely the near success of murderous 
vindictiveness and its last minute defeat. Gut that and you gut the play.

Cheers,
don

PS. I remain puzzled about Portia's "entrapment" of Shylock. When I read 
the play, I see her twice suggesting that Shylock rescind the judgment 
against Antonio, first on grounds of mercy and then on grounds of 
profit. He refuses. She makes a third suggestion, implicitly, when she 
reveals the appalling nature of the act he is demanding as they move 
toward the actual killing of Antonio. He again refuses. This is entrapment?

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