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

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0146  Tuesday, 30 March 2010

[1]  From:      William Godshalk < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      March 18, 2010 5:11:27 PM EDT
     Subj:      RE: SHK 21.0125  Leah's Ring 

[2]  From:      David Basch < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      March 18, 2010 8:58:53 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0092  Leah's Ring 

[3]  From:      Thomas Pendleton < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      March 18, 2010 10:25:45 PM EDT
     Subj:      RE: SHK 21.0125  Leah's Ring 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         William Godshalk < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         March 18, 2010 5:11:27 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0125  Leah's Ring
Comment:      RE: SHK 21.0125  Leah's Ring

The meaning of the "wilderness of monkeys" is not inherent or transparent. How does the actor playing Shylock interpret the passage? His daughter has betrayed him, taken his wealth, and given away Leah's ring for a monkey. Can we assume that the ring is of sentimental value for him, that he would not, as the Christian husbands do, give his ring away as a gratuity to a lawyer? When Shylock laments the lost of the ring, and says that he would not give it up for a wilderness of monkeys, the actor playing Shylock might speak this in total anguish. That symbolic wilderness of monkeys indicates how large is his loss. 

W. L. Godshalk *
Department of English
University of Cincinnati

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         David Basch < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         March 18, 2010 8:58:53 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0092  Leah's Ring
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0092  Leah's Ring

John Drakakis in his brief comments on Leah's ring a week ago is most perceptive.

John wrote:

>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.

I think that John is correct that Leah's ring is not mentioned for any replication of an authentic Jewish marriage ritual, which, foremost, involves the groom giving a ring to the bride, by virtue of which he consecrates his bride, as prescribed by Jewish law.

The meaning of Shylock's comment about the ring, that "He had it of Leah," is a straightforward remark that the ring was a gift from his wife, Leah.  One needs to be very obtuse not to recognize this and there were many on list who commented on list that recognized this.

When Shylock learns that Jessica traded the ring for a monkey, a sign of her vapidity and emptiness that a ring that her mother gave to her father had so little value to her, Shylock says, "I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys." This is a direct dig at his callous daughter who had deserted him and robbed him of the ring among other valuables. Think only about how any father would react to such conditions of a betrayal by a daughter, irrespective of being a Jew or Gentile, and you will, I wager, be close to how the playwright regarded this event.

John Drakakis's point is also most astute about the Leah's ring being related to the ring that Portia gives to Bassanio (and that Nerissa gives to Gratiano). In all these cases, the original gift of the ring was a token of love. It appears that in this parallelism of rings subsequently given away, Shakespeare is commenting on the significance of the partings with rings. Thus, just as Jessica frivolously parts from the ring, so do Bassanio and Gratiano part with their rings that they had so earnestly swore to their spouses to keep. Clearly, Shakespeare is communicating through Jessica's display of thoughtlessness and callousness how his audience ought regard such actions. For Jessica, it amounted to a dishonoring of her father and mother, the breaking of a direct biblical commandment. For the men, it is a serious breach of their oath to their spouses, that is, bearing false witness to them, the breach of another commandment, however lightly excused by the ladies at the end.

The episodes of the rings are one of many revelations of character that Shakespeare uses to expose the hypocrisy of the Venetians in this play.  Ironically, it is Shylock that provides the better example of committed love and, whatever else he is accused of, he is hardly the only example of character failure. Such insights invite a deeper examination of the behavior of the key characters in the play. The existence of such episodes hardly suggests a playwright that is a poor craftsman and more likely shows his subtlety, which a serious minded audience should take care to recognize.

David Basch

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Thomas Pendleton < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         March 18, 2010 10:25:45 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0125  Leah's Ring
Comment:      RE: SHK 21.0125  Leah's Ring

In his 2004 film of Merchant, Michael Radford seemed to want to make everything more than completely clear; he had Pacino as Shylock say, "I had it of her mother, Leah, when I was a bachelor."

Tom Pendleton

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