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Home :: Archive :: 2010 :: March ::
Leah's Ring

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0092  Thursday, 4 March 2010

[1]  From:      Brett D. Hirsch < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      March 3, 2010 2:35:41 PM EST
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0089 Leah's Ring 

[2]  From:      James H Forse < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      March 3, 2010 3:39:17 PM EST
     Subj:      RE: SHK 21.0089  Leah's Ring 

[3]  From:      Peter Holland < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      March 3, 2010 4:02:01 PM EST
     Subj:      RE: SHK 21.0089  Leah's Ring 

[4]  From:      Jason Rhode < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      March 3, 2010 6:20:58 PM EST
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0089 Leah's Ring 

[5]  From:      Bill Blanton < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      March 3, 2010 8:02:26 PM EST
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0089  Leah's Ring 

[6]  From:      John Drakakis < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      March 4, 2010 6:16:14 AM EST
     Subj:      RE: SHK 21.0089  Leah's Ring 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Brett D. Hirsch < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         March 3, 2010 2:35:41 PM EST
Subject: 21.0089 Leah's Ring
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0089 Leah's Ring

>Does anyone know whether the ring that Shylock had of Leah
>when he was a bachelor would have been part of any particular
>Jewish religious or cultural ceremony?

Hi David,

Roni Weinstein discusses the marriage and pre-marriage rituals practiced by early modern Italian Jews in her book, Marriage Rituals Italian Style: A Historical Anthropological Perspective on Early Modern Italian Jews (Leiden: Brill, 2004), which might be of interest to you. She writes: "The ring, symbolizing the man's loyalty to the woman and his desire for eventual commitment and marriage, played a role at the courtship stage that precedes the wedding. [...] Giving a ring has a definite role in halakhic literature: through the ring, the man acquires the woman and the woman delivers herself to the man. In Jewish-Italian wedding rituals, this act is loaded with a rich symbolism..." (. pp. 203-4)

There were, of course, earlier medieval traditions and these varied (as they are wont to do) from place to place. As Israel Abrahams writes on medieval Jewish betrothal rings: "Engagement rings were worn rather by the men than by the women. In Germany, a gold ring was presented to the bridegroom by his intended's father some time before the wedding, whereas the lady only received her engagement ring on her wedding morn. The Greco-Turkish Jewish maiden usually wore a ring immediately on her engagement, and much ceremonial etiquette was connected with the presentation. [...] In Italy the wearing of rings was the delight of both sexes..." (Jewish Life in the Middle Ages. New York: Macmillan, 1919. pp. 180-81)

Best wishes,
Brett

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         James H Forse < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         March 3, 2010 3:39:17 PM EST
Subject: 21.0089  Leah's Ring
Comment:      RE: SHK 21.0089  Leah's Ring

I cannot speak to Jewish custom, but Shakespeare's audience would have seen the ring as a mark of legal betrothal. The exchange of some tangible token was taken as a pledge to marry. Check David Cressy's Birth Marriage and Death (Oxford, 1997).

J. H. Forse 

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Peter Holland < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         March 3, 2010 4:02:01 PM EST
Subject: 21.0089  Leah's Ring
Comment:      RE: SHK 21.0089  Leah's Ring

David,

I do not know of any modern or early modern Jewish ceremony in which exchange of rings would play a part -- I offer this more as evidence of my ignorance than of the absence of such a ceremony. But, even if there were such a ceremony, wouldn't the crucial referent point be the frequent exchange of rings at betrothal in English Christian ceremonies? So often the courts (church and civil) ruled that exchange of rings signified a betrothal (when, for instance, one party subsequently denied that betrothal had taken place). Wouldn't an early modern audience have been likely to hear the Shylock's statement as conferring an especially potent memory on the ring? 

Peter Holland

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Jason Rhode < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         March 3, 2010 6:20:58 PM EST
Subject: 21.0089 Leah's Ring
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0089 Leah's Ring

Don't know if this helps, but: http://www.jstor.org/pss/2868199

-Jason Rhode

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Bill Blanton < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         March 3, 2010 8:02:26 PM EST
Subject: 21.0089  Leah's Ring
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0089  Leah's Ring

Despite the fact that the text appears to identify Shylock as a Jew, Shakespeare did not write Shylock as a Jew. It is futile to try to construct a Jewish backstory for him. Worse than futile: doing so perpetuates the mistaken notion that The Merchant of Venice is an anti-Semitic play, and its author either an anti-Semite himself or someone capable of capitalizing on the anti-Semitism of others just to make a few bucks.

Anyone interested in learning more about my unorthodox ideas and the various bases for them should email me privately. I have studied this play in depth for more than three years, and believe that I can contribute substantively to the understanding of this play and of the study Shakespeare generally. 

I am very interested in a constructive dialog, and not at all interested in provoking arguments. Consequently, I will not respond on this forum, but only in private. Rather than dismiss my ideas out-of-hand, why not do the scholarly thing and critically examine my challenge to the Prevailing Understanding? 

Respectfully,
Bill Blanton
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         John Drakakis < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         March 4, 2010 6:16:14 AM EST
Subject: 21.0089  Leah's Ring
Comment:      RE: SHK 21.0089  Leah's Ring

Interesting question David.

It's not a 'wedding ring'. Might it be a token that is not dissimilar to the ring that Portia gives to Bassanio at 3.2.? Presumably Jessica acquired Shylock's ring as part of her haul from her father's house. Also, the Shylock/Tubal scene (3.1.) immediately precedes the Portia/Bassanio scene. I'd be surprised if this juxtaposition is 'accidental', and I'd be even more surprised if the 'intention' here was to replicate an authentic Jewish cultural ritual.

Cheers,
John Drakakis

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