Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

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

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0125  Thursday, 18 March 2010

[1]  From:      William Godshalk < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      March 11, 2010 4:24:41 PM EST
     Subj:      RE: SHK 21.0113  Leah's Ring 

[2]  From:      Martin Mueller < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      March 11, 2010 5:05:20 PM EST
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0113  Leah's Ring 

[3]  From:      Harry Rusche < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      March 11, 2010 6:06:51 PM EST
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0113 Leah's Ring 

[4]  From:      Michael Luskin < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      March 13, 2010 9:16:34 PM EST
     Subj:      Shylock's Ring 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         William Godshalk < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         March 11, 2010 4:24:41 PM EST
Subject: 21.0113  Leah's Ring
Comment:      RE: SHK 21.0113  Leah's Ring

I wonder if Shakespeare sat around with quill in hand wondering how his auditors would respond to a vague reference to Leah's ring. Perhaps he did. And perhaps, given Shylock's passion for wealth, Shakespeare considered that "had of Leah" might suggest "stole it from her" in his younger days. 

And the auditor might of course come up with another possible meaning for Leah's ring when he or she hears the very last line of the play. 

Larry Weiss has a much more reasonable interpretation. 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Martin Mueller < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         March 11, 2010 5:05:20 PM EST
Subject: 21.0113  Leah's Ring
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0113  Leah's Ring

"I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor" is like the punch line of a joke: it concentrates a lot of what has happened in a single moment of dramatic release.

In this case, the playwright has set up a cruel experiment that puts to the test the very universal and very limited theory of humanity Shylock had developed in his famous speech. It's a stimulus response theory of human behaviour. It works brilliantly as Shylock's interlocutors get him to behave just as they want. But with the single sentence "I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor" Shylock unwittingly explodes the theory and reveals for a moment, and only for a moment, a sense of human values that are not contained in a stimulus/response theory and that may still be in him somewhere but were there for certain at least once. The man who can speak such a sentence is quite different from the man Shakespeare had given to us before, especially in his linguistically contracted introduction. And the man who does speak this sentence takes most of it back in the end of the next sentence with its "wilderness of monkeys." But there it is or was, however briefly. For me it is the most powerful moment of the play, but no interpretation of the play can do it justice unless it comes to terms with this moment. 

There is no 'back story' here, nor is there a special story about the ring except that for Shakespeare's audience (and not only for his audience) it was a traditional token of human commitment. Everything you need to know about this dramatic moment is given in the simple fact that Leah is a very common woman's name in Shylock's world. His Rosalind, so to speak. 

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Harry Rusche < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         March 11, 2010 6:06:51 PM EST
Subject: 21.0113 Leah's Ring
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0113 Leah's Ring

I think Shylock's remark and his surprise about the ring is one of the places in the text where we see a man with genuine warmth who felt affection for Leah, whoever she was. That he equates it with a wilderness of monkeys somewhat undercuts the effect, but still it is a human touch on Shakespeare's part. Shylock's equation reminds me of Oscar Wilde's definition of a cynic: one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. At the end of Radford's Merchant Jessica is holding the ring?for an old romantic like me a nice gesture; perhaps we should pay more attention to Jessica's missing mother Leah. Or is that another back story?

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Michael Luskin < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         March 13, 2010 9:16:34 PM EST
Subject:      Shylock's Ring

There is no particular Jewish religious or general cultural significance to Leah's having given Shylock a bejeweled ring when he was a bachelor. It was just a gift. On the other hand, it had great sentimental value to Shylock, which, for Shakespeare, humanizes him. 

The few Jews Shakespeare would have come across or learned about in Elizabethan England would have been Sephardic. There are differences in customs between Sephardic Jews, and the vast majority of Jews in modern America, the Ashkenazim, with roots in Eastern Europe. But many to most customs are the same, especially ones dealing with something with such strong religious content as marriage. While a ring is one of the gifts an observant Jew (almost) invariably gives his bride under the wedding canopy, a ring is NOT given by a bride to a groom. The rare instances in which a ring is not given usually arise from a family ring having been lost in the Holocaust, and its absence is as strong as its presence. In fact, a Chassidic, or a modern orthodox, Rabbi will not permit an exchange of rings under the wedding canopy. I can't remember why. In Shakespeare's day, there were no Reform or Conservative Jews, so their customs are not relevant. While it is not unusual to see an orthodox Jew wearing a wedding band today, it was not given as part of the wedding ceremony, and has no religious significance.

Harry Sentiment is all there is to the ring Shylock had of Leah when he was a bachelor.

Which leads to my next thought. I have read W. N. Blanton's very interesting explanation of the trial scene in MOV. While it is learned, I wonder what others think of it. For one thing, would Shakespeare have know so much about the workings of the Elizabethan court system? Or cared? Is the court a subtheme of the play? Several years ago, there was a controversy on this list about Measure for Measure. One poster wrote a detailed and long explanation of the play as an allegory about currency abasement. As I recall, at the end, he confessed that this was not what he believed, since Shakespeare would have had to have been a modern economist to have had that collection of ideas in mind when he wrote the play, but that he wrote that as an example of what one COULD do if he so chose. For that poster, at best, the play could suggest currency abasement, but NOT the other way around. In the same way, it would be possible for someone to suggest parallels, but not inspiration, between King John and the dried fruit industry in Paraguay, which, to my knowledge, did not fascinate or arouse Shakespeare. 

_______________________________________________________________
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the editor assumes no responsibility for them.

 

 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.