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The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0126 Thursday, 18 March 2010
 From: Allston James <
 From: Bill Blanton <
 From: Larry Weiss <
 From: Conrad Cook <
Re. the legal analysis of the 'Merchant of Venice' trial scene, I propose that this is a case of not seeing the forest for the trees.
The heart of the scene--and play--pertains to the quality of obsession AND mercy. Calling the scene legally unreal is tantamount to calling 'Romeo and Juliet' or 'The Tempest' unreal. The scene is not about jurisprudence; it is about the self-destructive twists and turns of human obsession. You want Justice? WE'LL give you justice . . .
I thank Hardy for allowing my post, and for his brief description of the contents of my article on the trial scene.
Hardy says that my article does not provide anything new, and mentions deconstructive analysis.
I am not an academic, and do not know about deconstructive analysis, or any other literary theory. If some scholar has applied this type of literary analysis to the trial scene, I would be grateful for a citation to the work.
Indeed, I would be grateful for a citation to the work of any scholar who has, for any reason, concluded that Shakespeare wrote the trial scene as something like a travesty, mockery, or parody of a trial from beginning to end. I have looked as diligently as I know how, and have found none.
Every scholarly work that I have read treats the trial scene as a more-or-less conventional trial, and treats the trial as a serious event. Almost all of the scholarly articles and books that I have read assume that the trial occurs in a Court of Justice in Venice.
I am a trial lawyer, and know a preposterous trial scene when I see one.
I have researched sixteenth century English law and procedure, and have applied that research to the trial scene as rigorously as I know how. I have demonstrated that the trial does not occur in Venice, but rather in the Court of Queen's Bench in Westminster Hall. I have cited many instances, from the beginning of the scene to its end, indicating that Shakespeare made almost every detail of the so-called trial impossible to accept as anything like a serious trial.
I respectfully submit that my analysis of the trial scene is indeed something entirely new.
It is also something that scholars can greatly benefit from: this new perspective opens the play up to new areas of research and analysis.
If Shakespeare did write the trial scene as a travesty of a trial, then all other assumptions about the play must be re-evaluated. After all, the trial scene is the point in the play where the two main plot lines, the Bond Plot and the Casket Plot, come together and achieve a dramatic resolution. If one has to radically change one's perspective on the trial scene, then one's perspective on the scenes that preceded it necessarily must be affected to one degree or another.
Hardy says he could not always accept the conclusions that I drew, but provided no specifics. I would be very grateful if Hardy, or anyone else, would provide some specific information concerning which statements or conclusions they take issue with, and, in general, why. I am as likely as the next person to make mistakes of fact or logic, and would appreciate any such mistakes being identified and corrected.
I would be friends with you.
[Editor's Note: I have responded to this message privately to Bill Blanton, and I grant permission that he share it with anyone who would like to see it. -HMC]
Having some time on my hands, I have read the entirety of Mr. Blanton's ingenious essay, in which he invites us to translate the Venetian trial first to Westminster Hall and then to any U.S. federal district court. Putting aside some quibbles which would be of interest mostly to other litigators -- such as the notion that real judges never involve themselves in settlement negotiations (it might be so in Texas I suppose) -- Blanton seems to have described the Elizabethan and modern forms of judicial procedure with fair accuracy.
So I am shocked -- shocked! -- to discover that Shakespeare made a complete hash out of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and the Federal Rules of Evidence, not to mention a number of canons governing the ethical obligations of judges and lawyers. I suppose we could say in his defense that he might have been trying to write a play with a suspenseful and dramatic catastrophe, but is that quite enough to justify his egregious procedural solipsisms? It surely would have been a better play if it read more like an appellate record.
As for Blanton's promise to demonstrate that Shakespeare wrote it [the trial scene] as a kind of parody or satire of a trial I find nothing like that anywhere in the essay. Saying that WS got the procedure wrong does not make the case that it was deliberate or intended to be "satirical." He didn't get it right in any other of his trial scenes either. The trial scene in Winter's Tale, for example, is even more ludicrous from a procedural standpoint, albeit it is brilliant theater.
>I have written an essay about the trial scene in The Merchant of
Yeah, it's an interesting scene because we feel (I think most of us do) that it makes no sense, and yet we're recruited to the illogical law's side, despite being able to acknowledge that Shylock has reason and a kind of justice on his side. Perhaps it appeals to the evil Jew in all of us?
Practically speaking, the law makes no sense to a lot of us, and yet we largely trust it to protect the innocent and to punish and reform the guilty.
It does seem to me that it's Shylock's play-none of the other characters has the household name claim he does-and that the trial scene is his scene. I wonder, Bill, if you'd be willing to speculate on this forum about what you feel the scene is about.
An interesting perspective.
>I did a cursory review of Bill Blanton's article on the MV. Blanton
Certainly Shakespeare would have been aware of some of his audience's tendency to attempt to interpret drama allegorically. And it seems likely he would have been willing to bait those people into such an interpretation. After all, a theatergoer who wants to figure out what a story means is a potential return customer, and the... mmm, jingoistic? ... religious resonances surely would have been a crowd-pleaser.
That is, doesn't the play *invite* us to interpret Shylock as representing more than just Shylock?
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