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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: February ::
Untouchable Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0091  Monday, 11 February 2008

[1] 	From:	Lucy Sacks <
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	Date:	Sunday, 10 Feb 2008 17:01:27 EST
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0082 Untouchable Shakespeare

[2] 	From:	Cliff Ronan <
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	Date:	Sunday, 10 Feb 2008 22:33:29 -0600
	Subj:	shk 19.0082 Untouchable Shakespeare


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Lucy Sacks <
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Date:		Sunday, 10 Feb 2008 17:01:27 EST
Subject: 19.0082 Untouchable Shakespeare
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0082 Untouchable Shakespeare

THE TFANA performance of MERCHANT was striking & effective in its use of 
modern costume, cellphones, and even neon. I hadn't seen the play in a 
long time and don't remember if the other performances I saw staged the 
ending in the way I saw in the TFANA Performance.

I was struck by the ending image of Antonio standing alone in one corner 
of the stage, while other paired Christians stood together. He, along 
with Shylock, is uncoupled and essentially alone, and in his own way was 
also an "outsider." The existence of the existential outsider attenuated 
the feelings of anger at the way Shylock the outsider was treated.

Lucy Sacks

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Cliff Ronan <
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Date:		Sunday, 10 Feb 2008 22:33:29 -0600
Subject:	shk 19.0082 Untouchable Shakespeare

Isn't The Merchant of Venice morally heftier, and less insouciant, than 
Much Ado and Twelfth Night and therefore a clearer anticipation of the 
Problem Plays? Like many other of the author's plays, no matter the date 
or genre, Merchant of Venice is a parcel of contradictions, some of 
which are prudently left unresolved, probably in order to tease us into 
dealing better with the anomalies of everyday life. Merchant of Venice 
is a romantic comedy that starts off with two principals in a state of 
sadness, and neither one openly indicates that love (for the same man) 
is at all the cause of the malaise. And the play ends with both Antonio 
and Portia delineating the territory of their post-play life, a 
territory fulfilling enough but not so spacious or exciting as they 
originally implicitly hoped it would be. To Antonio, Bassanio is in 
effect one more cargo ship, here lost to that youth's financial and 
romantic hopes. And to Portia, Bassanio is someone she has taken down a 
peg, and seen as the emotionally immature and dependent creature he 
really is and not the glamorous knight to whom she could relinquish 
every key in her hand and heart.

As for the moral and religious issues, aside from the fairly tolerant 
attitude the author of the Sonnets understandably takes towards 
Antonio's homoerotic attraction to Bassanio, Merchant of Venice gives us 
a world of fine speeches that lead to ironically inappropriate actions. 
The process is gentler than in All's Well or Measure for Measure, where 
we are submitted to the silence of an Angelo after his astoundingly 
hypocritical self-indulgence and murderous perversions. Or to the 
shameless lies of a viciously squirming Bertram. Instead, we here have a 
set of more refined vices: questions of whether a murder contract would 
be honored in order to safeguard a country's economy; or whether a Jew 
who has sworn not to eat with Christians should actually break Kosher 
and go to shul in order to plan a blood sacrifice of a hapless 
Christian. We are also asked to realize that Christian rhetoric is 
still-born-easily ignorantly inoperable even to its purveyors. Lorenzo 
and Lancelot may hate Jews but be on the take for Jewish money and be 
fascinated with a Jew's daughter. Bassanio must have realized that the 
gifts of money received from his "bosom lover" Antonio were probably not 
given without unexpressed (or expressed?) romantic hopes.

Launcelot and Lorenzo think it's a great joke to make puns about a black 
maid whom lover-boy Launcelot has just gotten with child and wants to 
deny to the government his being the father. Converted Jews are also 
matters for jokes-about bidding up the price of pork-and recipients of 
lectures on famous unfaithful lovers when one is on one's honeymoon.

Portia, just like the stereotypical Jews described by St. Paul and the 
gospels, knows what literal-minded obedience is to a pact, promise, or 
law. And without apology or self-doubt, she follows it with an evil 
heart: agreeing to marry a black if he fulfills her father's command, 
but praying God that no man of this "complexion" may ever win her. But 
of course she also eloquently preaches the triumph of Christ's mercy 
over the sword of God-given justice. But she comes right into the 
allegedly Pharisaical line when she wants to force Shylock into a forced 
internal conversion (something that neither Elizabeth nor the Pope could 
or did demand. (Elizabeth demanded only church attendance and the popes 
insisted 'only' on attendance at Saturday sermons.) But Portia, though 
loyal to her own father, has no problem nurturing a disobedient Jewess, 
who deprives her father of money, a sentiment-laden ring, and the chance 
for progeny in his age-old tribe and faith. Further, Portia is not the 
one worried about what will happen to a middle-aged middle-class man if 
he is deprived of the capital he needs to follow the single legitimate 
profession of which he had any prior knowledge, or any opportunity to 
follow. The ironies in this story are manifold and have as their target 
English as well as Venetian Christians. Why else would Shakespeare write 
eloquently of the bodily and emotional propinquity of the Prince of 
Morocco and Shylock to the English spectators? And if these aliens were 
imperfect humans, should the English audience revel in its own moral 
superiority? The question is preposterous. He who wrote Othello and 
Titus Andronicus and the Sonnets to a Dark Lady must certainly have been 
able to sympathize with the Moslem, Jew, and black man-and the Moorish 
maid. These people may also be legitimate butts of comedy and satire, 
but so are we all. And Shakespeare allows the audience to reflect that 
spittle-ful Antonio and his Jew-baiting hangers-on are no more nor less 
assured of reaching heaven and/or happiness than the rest of us are.

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