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

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0159  Wednesday, 6 April 2010

[1]  From:      Robert Projansky < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      March 31, 2010 5:35:08 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0102  Leah's Ring 

[2]  From:      Joseph Egert < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      April 6, 2010 4:58:17 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0102  Leah's Ring 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Robert Projansky < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         March 31, 2010 5:35:08 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0102  Leah's Ring
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0102  Leah's Ring

David Bishop says,

The trade for a monkey is wild but generous, and suggests a reaction against Shylock's stinginess. It gains some more sympathy as a trade of a cold stone for a warm body. Shylock's "wilderness of monkeys" may show in its quantification his reduction of bodies to money. So his sentimental attachment, such as it is, may be more to the jewel than to Leah. We tend to take this as Shylock's most sympathetic line. Shakespeare may not have meant it that way.

The notion that "the trade for a monkey is wild but generous" entirely misses the point. It has nothing to do either with generosity or exchanging cold stone and metal for a nice warm body. On the contrary, that Jessica traded that ring for a monkey sharply underlines her unspeakably callous treachery. A monkey resembles a human, but it is a beast, a dirty little louse-picking thing that grabs what it wants and shits and spits on you out of a tree. That is what the unnatural Jessica has made of the ring that meant the world to her father.

This scene exemplifies WS's incomparable dramatic deftness. At the beginning we have Tubal's investigative reporting on Jessica's profligacy, Shylock's reaction to which at first sounds like more heartless miserliness, then Tubal tells of a lost ship that may be Antonio's, which moves the plot forward and ratchets up Shylock's evident vengefulness. Then Tubal says:

   One of them shewed me a ring that hee had of
   your daughter for a Monkie.

We have just learned of Shylock's discovery of Jessica's theft and flight not by seeing him discover it but by watching Solanio -- playing Shylock -- regale Salarino with an account as comedy, and in this scene Shylock has already corroborated Solanio's mockery of his materialistic distress. Now he says:

   Out vpon her, thou torturest me Tuball, it was my Turkies,

which sounds like more of the same crying after his lost wealth, but then Shylock suddenly and unexpectedly veers to this:

   I had it of Leah when I was a Batcheler: I
   would not haue giuen it for a wildernesse of Monkies. 

When the human heart cries out in pain onstage, audience sympathies follow, unless it's the bad guy's comeuppance that we have been eagerly awaiting. WS has already made Shylock out as the villain of the piece and given us specific personal reasons to dislike him to go with his baseline Jewishness, but now Shakespeare suddenly dares to ask us -- force us -- to feel his pain. Shylock has shown almost no virtues before this moment, but in a flash WS shows that he has a heart capable of deep and abiding love and that his daughter has thoughtlessly broken it. 

Shakespeare's churchgoing Christian audience has certainly approved of her flight, both as the conspiracy was laid and after the fact, then suddenly he presents this other vicious thing she has done, far worse than the theft itself. Shylock's Hath-not-a-Jew-eyes speech, just before this news from Tubal, may have fallen on unsympathetic ears both onstage and off, but his response to his runaway child's thoughtlessly cruel desecration of what remains of her mother is very different, and hugely more powerful. Before, Shylock has said, I am a man like you. Now he shows it.

This must have been a stunner when first performed. Shylock's cri de Coeur is, to me, the most moving line in the canon. Did the Globe audience go where this sudden revelation led them? Did it crack open their minds to think the theretofore unthinkable things about Christians, Jews and all of humankind implicit or suggested in what they had just heard and felt? And what kind of play is this in which the Christians show so little Christian virtue and the newest one the least of all? Well, among other things, it is a play in which the raffinato Antonio, perhaps because he is also a spitter and a kicker, finds himself in the deadly clutches of a cruel and vengeful man whose enormous capacity to love he cannot even begin to imagine.

We are often reminded that characters have no other existence beyond the words on the page. I generally agree with that, but although the text contains no such words, I have not the slightest doubt:

-- that Leah is Shylock's wife, that she is Jessica's mother, and that she is dead;

-- that that is what all audiences pretty much all believe (except, apparently, some SHAKSPER communicants); and

-- that that is what Shakespeare intended us to believe.

Best to all,
Bob Projansky

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Joseph Egert < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         April 6, 2010 4:58:17 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0102  Leah's Ring
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0102  Leah's Ring

David Bishop writes:

"The trade for a monkey is wild but generous, and suggests a reaction against Shylock's stinginess. It gains some more sympathy as a trade of a cold stone for a warm body. Shylock's "wilderness of monkeys" may show in its quantification his reduction of bodies to money."

Yet, without the ring she stole, Jessica would have no monkey.

In this play gold provoketh thieves sooner than beauty. Both suitors and sued gild themselves in the ducats of their fathers, friends, and lenders to attract their mates. It is the gold in the fleece, and not the fleece alone, which brings Portia's Iason (bASsaNIO) to Belmont to his 'lady richly left' -- her wondrous virtue, an afterthought. Bassanio needs Shylock's shekels to make himself presentable. He wins the Lottery and trades his own pound of fertile flesh for Portia's wealth. How does she put it? "Since you are dear bought, I will love you dear. Jessica understands, "I will...gild myself/ With some moe ducats, and be with you straight." And so, Lorenzo steals the thief. How could he resist, "furnished" as she was with Daddy's "gold and jewels"?

In this play Shakespeare limns for us the Eucharist of nascent capitalism: the transformation of metal manna into breeding flesh.

Or, patrimon-e-y before matrimony.

First the ring, then the monkey.

Joe Egert

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