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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: June ::
The Big Question
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0599  Monday, 26 June 2006

[1] 	From: 	Carol Barton <
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	Date: 	Friday, 23 Jun 2006 18:44:26 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0580 The Big Question

[2] 	From: 	Carol Barton <
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	Date: 	Friday, 23 Jun 2006 18:53:56 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0580 The Big Question

[3] 	From: 	JD Markel <
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	Date: 	Friday, 23 Jun 2006 18:36:33 -0700 (PDT)
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0593 The Big Question

[4] 	From: 	Marilyn A. Bonomi <
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	Date: 	Saturday, 24 Jun 2006 09:01:35 -0400
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0593 The Big Question

[5] 	From: 	Edmund Taft  <
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	Date: 	Sunday, 25 Jun 2006 13:42:50 -0400
	Subj: 	The Big Question

[6] 	From: 	Joseph Egert <
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	Date: 	Monday, 26 Jun 2006 02:03:54 +0000
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0593 The Big Question


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Carol Barton <
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Date: 		Friday, 23 Jun 2006 18:44:26 -0400
Subject: 17.0580 The Big Question
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0580 The Big Question

I agree with Ed, wholeheartedly. I think (as I have said before) that 
the "Christians" come off as un-Christian as Shylock is reputed to be in 
this play . . . and that one must apply "cat shall mew, and dog shall 
have his day" to the pound of flesh. Those who are cornered and virtual 
helpless strike out with whatever means are available to them . . . and 
the only way Shylock can avenge his debasement and what he sees as the 
theft (alienation) of his daughter (and his ducats) is to insist on the 
pound of flesh that Antonio frivolously promised . . . that is, to use 
(OT style) justice vs. (NT) mercy to the letter of the law, with the 
whole weight and implications of the old (impossible to honor) covenant 
behind it. But in this case it isn't Moses bring down unreasonable 
edicts carved in stone from the mount .  . . Antonio creates his own 
hell, by virtue of his disregard and disrespect for the worth of another 
human being.

Best to all,
Carol Barton

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Carol Barton <
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Date: 		Friday, 23 Jun 2006 18:53:56 -0400
Subject: 17.0580 The Big Question
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0580 The Big Question

For Sam Small's big question:

Every time I console the bereaved with the sentiments (if not the actual 
words) of "No longer mourn for me" or make a friend smile with "To me, 
fair friend," I think Shakespeare improves the world . . . his is a 
psychology that predates Freud and Jung and Kristeva, but often has a 
validity far more relevant and accessible, and no other writer (not even 
my own beloved Milton . . . or Chaucer . . . or Hawthorne) captured the 
essence of humanity so accurately and so compellingly in so many ways.

That is a totally subjective comment--but it reflects a lifetime of 
gratitude and appreciation. My world would be diminished were there no 
_Lear_ or _Hamlet_ in it.

Best to all,
Carol Barton

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		JD Markel <
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Date: 		Friday, 23 Jun 2006 18:36:33 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 17.0593 The Big Question
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0593 The Big Question

The set-up something like "entrapment," maybe not in the Black's 
Dictionary sense.  But the phrase "judicial murder" is of recent origin 
and crafted by death penalty opponents.  Consider whether Shakespeare is 
depicting a judicial murder or something in the field of euthanasia we 
know as "assisted suicide."

Shylock strives to do something permitted to the good doctors of Oregon 
and Holland.  Antonio, like a willing patient, wants to die and die 
quickly.  The first obstacle to this closure is Bassanio's reasoning 
with Shylock.  Antonio pleads to Bassanio,

Make no moe offers, use no further means,
But with all brief and plain conveniency
Let me have judgment, and the Jew his will! 4.1.81-83

Bassanio ignores Antonio's desire and continues to argue with Shylock. 
The letter from Bellario arrives giving Bassanio new hope, "Good cheer 
Antonio!" .111  This news does not cheer Antonio and he compares himself 
to a castrated ram and weak fruit,  "and so let me" die. .116

Portia the lawyer arrives and he offers no defense, confessing the bond 
with two words, "I do" .179.  The admission does not realize his goal 
for quick death, the other characters ramble on about mercy, law and 
such things of little interest to Antonio.   Thwarted, Antonio cuts into 
the conversation,

Most heartily I do beseech the court
To give me judgement. 4.1.238-239

In Antonio's swan-dive farewell speech, 4.1.260-277, we learn why he 
wants to die, his motive -- he would rather be dead than poor, he 
assuming all his ships at sea lost.  Antonio makes a poor Jesus figure. 
   Proceedings continue and Antonio is thwarted yet again when Portia 
states if Shylock takes one drop of blood all of Shylock's land and 
goods are "confiscate unto the state of Venice."  Antonio meets total 
defeat when Shylock renounces the bond thus ending the possibility of 
Shylock killing him.  However by a fortunate turn of events, Portia 
announces another law, "another hold," on Shylock whereby Antonio takes 
Shylock's wealth.  Once the assistant to Antonio's attempted suicide, 
Shylock turns into the instrumentality by which Antonio will be poor no 
more.

Conclusion: Applying our 21st century sensibilities Shylock did not 
attempt a judicial murder but a judicial assisted suicide.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Marilyn A. Bonomi <
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Date: 		Saturday, 24 Jun 2006 09:01:35 -0400
Subject: 17.0593 The Big Question
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0593 The Big Question

Don Bloom writes, "To fail to come to grips with this malevolent cruelty 
in Shylock seriously distorts our understanding of the play."

I admit I am no scholar, and hope I give no offense in what I am about 
to say.

We need to look at this play w/ two lenses I believe: one showing us our 
own world, the other showing us the world in which the play was created.

In *our* world, everything that happens to Shylock resonates with the 
Holocaust.  As a Jew myself I have always found the casual disdain and 
outright despising of The Jew in MoV painful.  I think we find it hard, 
with the 20th century so keenly in all our consciousnesses, to set aside 
history and look at Shylock the man, who is vindictive and whose 
vengeance for insults and even losses of business is so excessive as to 
merit Don's word "malevolent."

Nonetheless, and sadly to one who loves Shakespeare's works in part 
because of what they help me see about humankind, "malevolent" is an 
accurate word-choice for Shylock's pound-of-flesh plan.

To Shakespeare (or at least in his world and culture-one cannot assert 
what the man believed), Shylock is not a representative of a people 
hounded and persecuted merely for being the Other.  Shylock is not in 
any way a sympathetic character, though we with our modern lens often 
see and portray him as such. (Dustin Hoffman's reading of the ducats and 
daughter line, for instance, made clear to me in the audience that it 
was his daughter's loss that upset him more.)

Our Elizabethan lens has to show us, however, a stock figure of comedy 
made real through the playwright's skill-but still a villain.  He's a 
more interesting villain for offering justification for his actions that 
any person who's been victimized can recognize-but still a villain for 
acting rather than merely imagining such vengeance.

My personal lens finds the punishment meted out to Shylock at the end 
intensely painful-to me he's stripped of his identity by being forced to 
convert.  He's a broken man because of that, not merely b/c he was 
unable to gain his vengeance on Anthony.

But when I hold up my Elizabethan lens and peer through it at the stage, 
I see a man given a gift instead of the punishment he deserved.  He is 
not pauperized, and he's given the "real" divinity and grace of the 
Christian "god."  There, perhaps, is the "marriage" that comedies are to 
end with (since all the other marriages have already taken place!).

Mari Bonomi

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Edmund Taft  <
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Date: 		Sunday, 25 Jun 2006 13:42:50 -0400
Subject: 	The Big Question

Don Bloom writes:

 >"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?"

No more evasive than your phrase "judicial murder," Don. The play is 
designed to explore areas that are not black and white, as your own 
attempt to capture in words what Shylock intends reveals. I sympathize 
with Shylock but cannot condone his wish to effect revenge under the 
protection of the law. (That's how I would phrase what Shylock wants to 
do.) But I do understand why Shylock proceeds as he does. The law is an 
instrument of control and authority that Shylock thinks he now has on 
his side. Now he wants to push his advantage.

In effect, Shylock wants to turn the tables on the Christians and use 
their own institutions against them. If I were him, I'd be tempted to do 
the same if I thought I could get away with it.

But to answer your question: Antonio's life should be spared. Period. 
Shylock misuses the law - or tries to. But so do Portia and the rest. 
For once she outwits Shylock, she and the others effectively destroy 
him. The "mercy" shown him, first by the Duke and then by Antonio, is 
anything but true mercy. It is revenge cloaked in the rhetoric of mercy, 
just as, at the start of the trial, Shylock cloaked his wished-for 
revenge by means of the law.

The key to the trial scene is that both Shylock and his antagonists 
think of each other as animals. This is what prejudice leads to: the 
"other" becomes subhuman. The law by itself can't fix this problem.

Ed Taft

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Joseph Egert <
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Date: 		Monday, 26 Jun 2006 02:03:54 +0000
Subject: 17.0593 The Big Question
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0593 The Big Question

Our distinguished Lawyer of the Lists has arrived on his charger, pen in 
hand, to defend fair Portia's honor:

 >I have heard people argue all sorts of absurdities, but this
 >one [i.e., arguing entrapment by Portia as mitigation] 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.

In the strict legal sense of entrapment by our standards, he is of 
course correct. But in the play world of Venice, Portia's imposture 
corrupts the trial process itself and invalidates any verdict issuing 
therefrom. Under our law Portia would be caged for that alone, and the 
case probably retried if not thrown out (Though given the jury pool, I 
wouldn't rank Shylock's odds very high in any retrial; better he stay 
"content" with what they've left him along with his shiny new Christian 
soul). Keep in mind, Antonio signed onto Shylock's plan against his 
friend's advice. Isn't he now an accessory to that alien's attempt on 
his life? But, you say, Antonio didn't know the law. Did Shylock? Did 
the Duke? Did anyone other than Portia? How skillfully and 
premeditatively she wields her acts against the unsuspecting Shylock, 
standing on his bond, so "dearly bought." The whole trial is a sham and 
a trap from beginning to end, a Shylock/Antonio pas de deux, directed by 
puppeteer Portia to teach our benighted souls the true meaning of mercy.

Lest we deem the lethal 3,000 ducat bond a bizarre dramatic fiction and 
nothing more, attend the tale of Thomas Fitzherbert. In the merrie ole 
England of Elizabeth R, Thomas "entered into a bond to give [a specified 
sum] unto Topcliffe if he would persecute his father and uncle to death 
together with Mr. Basset [an uncle-by marriage]" as Catholic recusants, 
thus leaving Thomas with the estate. Hope springing eternal, he 
thereupon betrayed all three to  the tender mercies of the Queen's pet 
racker and Esquire/protector of her majestic body. In the event, both 
father and uncle died in prison in 1591. When Topcliffe claimed his just 
reward , Thomas refused, arguing the two died of old age with the third 
still alive. Now, I ask you: What's a dedicated hardworking torturer to 
do? Topcliffe took him to court, but the Privy Council intervened. 
Topcliffe then claimed he was outbribed by another Fitzherbert family 
member in league with an unnamed Privy Councillor, seeking the survival 
and release of the prisoners. For such impudence, the Rackmaster was 
himself Towered. But fear not! A few personal letters from the Esquire 
to the Body, and he was out in two weeks or so. Too many pesky Catholics 
out and about requiring his ministrations. With justice his plea, 
Topcliffe then refused to return to Thomas the latter's family estate at 
Padley, which Thomas had earlier signed over to Topcliffe in trust to 
shield it from his family. Back we go to Chancery, which this time held 
for Topcliffe. After the Body expired in 1603, Topcliffe, now without 
his own protector, was summarily ejected from Padley and the estate 
returned to the Fitzherbert family heir Anthony, in yet one more turn of 
the Wheel...Ahh, gentles all.

Shakespeare himself in London may have seen the poled head of his 
distant cousin Edward Arden as a warning from Queen Liz to all 
newcomers. Accused as a recusant in a dubious process and then beheaded, 
Edward's property was confiscated by the State.

How did Will put it through his mouthpiece Arragon?   "Let none presume/ 
To wear an undeserved dignity [a lawyer's robe?]. / O, that estates, 
degrees and offices,/ Were not derived corruptly, and that clear honour/ 
Were not purchased by the merit of the wearer!"

Frank Brownlow in his 2003 piece on "Richard Topcliffe" links the 
publicly bruited Fitzherbert affair to the Gloucester family saga in 
KING LEAR. I see the link extending to the MERCHANT as well. Do you? 
Oh yes, the original sum of the Fitzherbert-Topcliffe bond?--3,000 pounds.

Enjoy,
Joe Egert

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