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

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0185  Friday, 23 April 2010

[1]  From:      Joseph Egert < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      April 17, 2010 5:51:58 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0180  Leah's Ring

[2]  From:      David Basch < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      April 18, 2010 5:50:11 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0180  Leah's Ring
 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Joseph Egert < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         April 17, 2010 5:51:58 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0180  Leah's Ring
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0180  Leah's Ring

Marilyn Bonomi sees no messages of universal "brotherhood" in MoV.

I wonder though, pace Martin Mueller, whether Shakespeare carefully chose the names Shilock, Chus, and Tuballto represent the fraternal fathers of humanity: Shem (Asia), Ham (Africa), and Japeth (Europe) respectively. As Cardozo (c. 1925) and later Halio in his 1998 Oxford edition indicate, "Shiloch" may indeed stem from "Shelah", direct descendant of Shem, as well as father of Eber/Heber, and through him Shy's sacred Hebrew nation. A second "Shelah" was begotten of Jacob's son Judah.

Shakespeare contrasts the ease with which Shylock obtains financing from these two fellow "countrymen" of his "tribe" to the difficulty Anthonio confronts in obtaining reprieve or funds from his own countrymen ("my creditors grow cruel").

Elsewhere in this thread, Martin Mueller belittles similar speculation on the name Leah. After all, he notes,"Leah is a very common woman's name in Shylock's world." Yet typologists of the era never wearied in their 'backstories' of linking this elder sister to the Synagogue and Old Covenant of Law & Letter, to be superseded by her younger sister Rachel, the Ecclesia of Grace& Spirit. By disposing of the ring binding Shylock to Leah, Jessica has practically severed his link to the Old Law, thus weakening and readying him for conversion.

This movement from Synagogue (the house of Shylock) to Ecclesia (the house of Bassanio) is repeated by the archetypal servant Launcelet's shift in masters. I am now convinced a key source for Launcelot's name is GALATIANS IV, where "Hagar's offspring" carnal Ishmael is called the "filius ancillae" ("son of the bondwoman"),as opposed to Isaac, the spiritual son of liberty and promise. Launcelot  similarly embodies the Esau-Jacob opposition in the blessing scene with Old Gobbo. By changing masters and livery, Launcelot has morphed from a servant of carnal Edom to one of spiritual Israel.

This shifting and instability of allegorical identity occurs throughout the drama, reflecting the confusion in genealogies of the peoples and Covenants both carnally and spiritually. The children of Shakespeare's day may not have been wise enough to know who their own fathers were.

Regards,
Joe Egert

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         David Basch < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         April 18, 2010 5:50:11 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0180  Leah's Ring
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0180  Leah's Ring

Marilyn Bonomi wrote:

>I see no messages of "brotherhood" in MoV, unless it be
>the "brotherhood" of Christians as they unite against the Other.

Here then for Ms. Bonomi are some examples of these, courtesy of Shakespeare, that she does not see. There is the instance of dark Morocco's majestic paraphrase of the Bible's SONG OF SONGS when he says to Portia, "Mislike me not for my complexion, t'is the shadowed livery of the burnished sun to whom I am a neighbor and near bred." The parallel of Morocco to the young woman in SONGS is itself powerfully humanizing.

Morocco goes on to offer to "make incision" to compare his blood to that of the fairest blonde "to see whose blood is reddest." This does call attention to the fact that, under the skin, we all have the same red blood, hence are brothers.

And is it necessary to remind of Shylock's world famous speech about all the ways in which Jews are like Christians? If that is not an expression and call to brotherhood in the play, then I would suggest that perhaps someone is sleeping during the performance.

Another expression of brotherhood is the first time meeting of Portia with Shylock and Antonio in the courtroom. Portia has to ask, "Which is the Jew and which the Christian." Obviously contrary to the myths, Shylock does not have horns or any other identifiable features that distinguish him from Christians and Portia must be told who is who. This is a subtle insinuation, but in the context of the raging demonization of Jews this incident is another point for brotherhood.

I would also point out the fact that in the play it is Shylock's anguish and suffering that is again and again so beautifully expressed in words like in the following passage:

No news of them? Why, so: and I know
not what's spent in the search: why, thou loss upon
loss! the thief gone with so much, and so much to
find the thief; and no satisfaction, no revenge:
nor no in luck stirring but what lights on my
shoulders; no sighs but of my breathing; no tears
but of my shedding.

Sure, there is an ambivalent mixture here. Shylock refers to his daughter as "the thief gone with so much" and in the next breath mentions the cost to "find the thief," the amount of which Shylock, the supposed penny-pincher, does not know, reflecting an all too human father's concerned quest to find his runaway daughter. The passage ends with Shylock breaking down in anguish: "no in luck stirring but what lights on my shoulders; no sighs but of my breathing; no tears but of my shedding." These are among the most unrivaled and moving of the lines in the play that affirm the Jew's humanity. It requires a real steeled effort by audiences to avoid their emotional impact, but which, in a context of a prior, poisonous attitude against Jews, too many spectators succumb to.

As to the likelihood of Shakespeare's knowledge of Judaic laws, which Ms.  Bonomi finds "slim," there is abundant contrary evidence of this. When Lancelot suggests that Jessica's only hope against damnation is that her mother had been unfaithful to Shylock, Jessica answers that "this is a bastard hope" for then I will be damned for the "sins" of my mother. The plural "sins" referred to is the "sin" of adultery and the "sin" that the Jewishness of the child is passed through the mother's being Jewish, which Shakespeare seems to be well aware of.

Another is that Shylock swears on the "holy Sabbath." The significance of this is that in Jewish teaching, the Sabbath is referred to as "the witness," the witness of God's creation of heaven and earth in six days.  Apparently, this is an all too appropriate Jewish tie that Shakespeare is aware of in his characterization.

Another is Shylock's suggestion that Venetian slave owners "let their [slaves'] beds be made as soft as yours" appears to be knowledgeable that Jewish law demands that if a slave owner has only one bed in his house, it is the slave that must be allowed to sleep in it.

Also to be added to these are the indications of a deep knowledge of the personality of the religious Jew that are revealed in the dialogue. For example, when an exasperated Bassanio presses Shylock to answer whether he will lend on not to Antonio, Shylock answers, " I am debating my store." Notice, that, while non-Jews think, figure, reckon, consider, etc', Shylock the Jew's mind works in the form of "debate." Shylock debates with himself about how much money he has in "store," the word "debate" marvelously capturing how a Jew steeped in the debates of the Talmud characteristically ratiocinates. "He debates," something of which Shakespeare seems to be aware.

As Ms. Bonomi acknowledges, there were some Jews in England in Elizabethan times, including in London. I would note that quite a few Jews, converted or hidden, were reputed to have been musicians drawn from Italy to become members of the royal orchestra. Contact with them by Shakespeare cannot be precluded and would back up the numerous reports by commentators about Shakespeare's familiarity with details of Venice, which was not the phonied representation alleged.

As to Ms. Bonomi's assertion:

Shylock most definitely is not the equivalent of a modern bank loan
officer; such a concept would have been totally foreign to
Shakespeare's experience and to his audience as well.

Here she again misspeaks. Apparently she does not realize that Christian lending was at the time of the MoV allowed in England, which is probably one of the reasons why the play was set in Venice, where Christian lending for money continued to be forbidden.

I would suggest that misinformed critics stop being the heralds of misinformation and myth about what the MoV contains or about Elizabethan England. Shakespeare displays a far greater scope of knowledge about his subjects than some dream of.

David Basch

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