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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: June ::
The Big Question
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0610  Thursday, 29 June 2006

[1] 	From: 	Joseph Egert <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 28 Jun 2006 18:50:25 +0000
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0608 The Big Question

[2] 	From: 	David Bishop <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 29 Jun 2006 01:03:42 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0608 The Big Question

[3] 	From: 	Donald Bloom <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 29 Jun 2006 10:30:15 -0500
	Subj: 	Usury


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Joseph Egert <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 28 Jun 2006 18:50:25 +0000
Subject: 17.0608 The Big Question
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0608 The Big Question

I cannot for the life of me understand how so many critics and scholars 
down the years have ignored or minimized the subversive undercurrents 
flowing beneath David Bishop's cover story. Perhaps, a Roundtable 
Discussion could explore the sources of such resistance-why so many are 
content to glide along the surface rather than pry to the interior. Rest 
assured, Ms. Bonomi, Shakespeare used both eyes in crafting his dramas, 
winking all the way. Shylock grew fangs only after being called dog, and 
not before.

Joe Egert

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		David Bishop <
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Date: 		Thursday, 29 Jun 2006 01:03:42 -0400
Subject: 17.0608 The Big Question
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0608 The Big Question

Frank Whigham's question about "let all of his complexion choose me so" 
is a natural one, for us, and a difficult one-as many have found. One 
might wonder why Shakespeare put these words in Portia's mouth if he did 
not mean to make her an unsympathetic character-in our terms, a racist.

In that sense we might consider Shakespeare a racist too, for example 
because of the many passing remarks about the ugliness of dark skin. 
This was a conventional judgment in his world, where whiter skin than 
alabaster was the ideal (though you could be too pale: a whey-face). But 
he also wrestles in the sonnets, as in Othello, with the conflict 
between conventional standards of beauty and a "fairness" that 
transcends skin color.

What then, for Shakespeare, was the point of Portia's remark? I think 
it's to show that Portia is a young girl naturally swayed by 
conventional standards of beauty: that she's not wise enough to 
completely discount them.  But if even a black man chose the right 
casket he would have proved his essential rightness-his fairness-and 
following the wise command of her father, she would have to marry him. 
Then, we understand, she would learn the deeper value of character. As 
it is, Shakespeare lets her off the hook, by giving her a man both 
beautiful and wise. But the hook is there, as her wish reminds us.

I was arguing that through most of the play Shylock's Jewishness is 
given no further positive content than his character as a mean, miserly 
usurer. I'm not sure it has any positive content at all, since what it 
most essentially means-in this play-is not believing in the Christian 
God's command to be merciful.

Separating "ideological" anti-Semitism from "racial" anti-Semitism can 
be difficult in some contexts. Here I'm pointing out that behaving 
kindly, and converting, seem to be all that's called for, in this play, 
to be accepted into the Christian community. Jessica is so attractive 
that even as a Jewess she inspires love and admiration. As far as the 
play is concerned, it appears that Shylock is an alien-a Jew-because 
that is what he chooses to be, when he could simply choose to be a 
Christian. If he quit usury, he could presumably make an honest living 
as a merchant. This may not apply to historical Jews in Venice, but then 
they also lived a ghetto, as Shylock does not. Incidentally I should 
mention to Hugh Grady that I'm not Tom Bishop, whom I imagine would not 
wish to be tarred with my feathers.

As for Jessica's ambiguity, I think the way her father keeps her locked 
up, and her own reaction to him, shows his meanness. To think Shylock is 
an admirable father seems to me to strain plausibility. Jessica makes 
fast the doors in ironic obedience to her father's order to shut them 
"after you, /Fast bind, fast find"-a proverb yielding more than one 
meaning to the thrifty mind. To take her genetic Jewishness seriously 
would undercut the satire of Launcelot, who "tells me flatly there is no 
mercy for me in heaven, because I am a Jew's daughter." Shakespeare 
faced the dramatic difficulty of making a happy marriage interesting, 
which he does by giving the couple some lovingly needling dialogue. That 
they can twit each other with references to famously unfaithful lovers 
shows their absolute security in their love. Portia shows the same 
rather awesome security when she says "Since you are dear bought, I will 
love you dear." They navigate these dangerous waters with the 
insouciance of true love.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Donald Bloom <
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Date: 		Thursday, 29 Jun 2006 10:30:15 -0500
Subject: 	Usury

William Godshalk writes: "Shylock is a usurer. I think we'd call him a 
banker in 2006. How could Renaissance merchants function without a 
fairly sophisticated banking system?"

Keeping strictly away from moral judgments of Shylock, what of Antonio's 
attitude toward "usury"? By the time Shakespeare wrote MOV banking had 
existed in Italy for upwards of 400 years and many a famous family 
(including the Medici) had gotten their start in that business. It 
strikes me as odd-and highly unlikely-that Antonio would accuse Shylock 
of a sin that was widely practiced by the most important people 
throughout Northern Italy, including (presumably) many of his Christian 
business associates.

Isn't it far more likely that he's accusing Shylock of actual usury, 
that is, of charging exorbitant interest rates in order to gouge money 
out of the desperate? Isn't he calling him what we would now term a loan 
shark?

I need some clarification here. Why are we assuming that a 
well-respected merchant of late Renaissance Venice would have such a 
Dark Ages attitude toward banking?

Cheers,
don

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