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Home :: Archive :: 2011 :: July ::
Merchant of Venice in a Las Vegas Setting


The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0152  Tuesday, 13 July 2011

[1] From       John Drakakis < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
      Date:      July 11, 2011 10:42:44 AM EDT
    Subj:     RE: Merchant of Venice in a Las Vegas Setting

[2] From:     Harry Berger Jr < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
      Date:      July 11, 2011 2:36:07 PM EDT
      Subj:      Re: Merchant of Venice in a Las Vegas Setting

[3] From:     Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
      Date:      July 11, 2011 3:24:46 PM EDT
      Subj:      Re: Merchant of Venice in a Las Vegas Setting

[4] From:     Joseph Egert < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
      Date:      July 11, 2011 4:44:33 PM EDT
      Subj:      Re: Merchant of Venice in a Las Vegas Setting


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         John Drakakis < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         July 11, 2011 10:42:44 AM EDT
Subject:      RE: Merchant of Venice in a Las Vegas Setting

My comments were on a particular RSC performance of The Merchant of Venice and were not intended to provoke a full-blown discussion of what the play is or is not about. I was not interested in suggesting that the play was Shylock’s ‘tragedy’ at all.  In fact the performance I saw offered a quite original gloss on the play as the British tax-payer’s ‘tragedy’ since s/he has to subsidise this half-baked thoughtless nonsense.
 
My reference to the superficial gloss on the play from Fergusson was to his contribution to the programme notes that can be best dealt with my dismissing them with contempt. My comment on the contribution to the programme notes from Linda Levy Peck however had a little more substance to it. Her contribution was headed ‘cultural materialism’ and its emphasis was on goods and consumption, and was at some considerable distance from the play. This kind of approach is symptomatic of what passes these days for ‘materialist’ criticism in some quarters, a ‘materialist’ criticism that purports to be ‘historical’ but that in effect does little more than fetishize the commodities it alludes to rather than explains them –indeed it seems to resurrect a completely passe version of ‘cultural materialism’ that occupies a position of status quo ante to what has been at issue in Shakespeare Studies at any time during this last 30 years or so. In the present context, the contributions of Fergusson and Peck are little more than ‘product placement’ and take their place with all of the other ‘commodities’ that are peddled under the RSC brand (including editions of the plays). Insofar as The Merchant of Venice is ‘about’ commodities, then it deals with them in a very oblique way indeed. It’s subtle way of dealing with them is both dialectical and political, and a failure to recognise this is to remain very much on the surface of the play, which is where this distinctly trans-Atlantic domesticated mode of ‘materialism’ is located. What is important in the play is the complex (and sometimes contradictory) network of social relations in which the material objects are caught up. Only those, who are uncritically besotted with the operations of capitalism and the alleged virtues of the free market, fail to recognise the subtleties of this play. The RSC production, capitulating as it does to a glossy version of the free market, while at the same time (some may feel) trying to offer a weak critique of it, ends up in a sentimentalising gesture that situates Elvis Presley at the centre of the whole thing. Belmont may, indeed, be Graceland to those who harbour a very parochial view of popular culture, but with the best will in the world, I think we have a right to expect a little more thought to emerge from what advertises itself as the major (and, let it be emphasised, very heavily subsidised) medium for Shakespeare. I am all for subsidising art that invites us to think about ourselves and the world in which we live. Thoughtless and mechanical reproduction that is preoccupied with the process of producing the very commodities that it should be criticising (which is one of the many things that the play can be said to be ‘about’) should be left to the vicissitudes of the free market.
 
Give me leave to go from hence.  I am not well
 
As ever,
John Drakakis

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Harry Berger Jr < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         July 11, 2011 2:36:07 PM EDT
Subject:      Re: Merchant of Venice in a Las Vegas Setting

"I recognize that I am baiting the hounds of hell, but for Hardy's sake, I hope the gentles and scholars among us are capable of recognizing that the sniping at and ad hominem flogging of those who dare to disagree with the "regular" authorities on this list in the past have driven many of us lesser beings away. I hope to gain insight from scholarly disputes . . . not to come away from them sickened and dismayed by what passes for debate."  -Carol Barton

Kudos to Carol Barton. I fully agree with her criticism.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         July 11, 2011 3:24:46 PM EDT
Subject:      Re: Merchant of Venice in a Las Vegas Setting

Erin Weinberg says,

"The beauty of the play’s vague title is that one cannot be sure to whom Shakespeare is referring, and if the referent is the protagonist or antagonist."

Actually, there should be no doubt about who the merchant is. In the modern world, all businessmen are sometimes called "merchants," but that is a corruption of the word. A merchant in the strict sense (and under the Uniform Commercial Code) is someone who buys and sells goods, as opposed to those who make the goods (manufacturers, or artisans in the old days), supply the real estate (landlords) or the capital (investors or bankers). Shylock was one of the latter -- a "moneylender" in contemporary parlance. We now understand that money is a commodity similar to others, but it wasn't regarded as such, in theory, in the Elizabethan age. This point is made in the play's wordplay about money breeding.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Joseph Egert < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         July 11, 2011 4:44:33 PM EDT
Subject:      Re: Merchant of Venice in a Las Vegas Setting

Stuart Manger asks:

>[...] why is that when MoV is discussed,
the role of Shylock is almost always the only topic of
debate while the play itself is
manifestly not about him primarily?<

Indeed, how could this play be "otherwise called the Iewe of Venyce"? in 1598, no less? It strains credulity. Surely the Roberts entry was forged. No?

No!
Joe Egert

"Which is the merchant here, and which the Jew?" (IV.1)

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