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


The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0159  Friday, 15 July 2011

[1] From:      Mari Bonomi < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
      Date:      July 14, 2011 10:21:15 AM EDT
      Subj:      Re: Merchant of Venice

[2] From       Harry Berger Jr < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
      Date:      July 14, 2011 11:52:34 AM EDT
      Subj:      Re: SHAKSPER: Revels; Rom Scholarship; MV

[3] From       John W Kennedy < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      July 14, 2011 2:55:12 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHAKSPER: Revels; Rom Scholarship; MV

[4] From       Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      July 14, 2011 5:44:47 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHAKSPER: Revels; Rom Scholarship; MV

[5] From       David Bishop < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      July 14, 2011 7:40:52 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHAKSPER: Revels; Rom Scholarship; MV

[6] From       Joseph Egert < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      July 15, 2011 2:53:26 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: Merchant of Venice in a Las Vegas Setting


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Mari Bonomi < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         July 14, 2011 10:21:15 AM EDT
Subject:      Re: Merchant of Venice

Donald Bloom suggests, "There is no more reason to assume that Shylock is a good man because he's being insulted, than to assume that Antonio is a good one because he is, ostensibly, a Christian. That's as may be. But I have found that that first assumption colors many people's ideas about the play. And I believe it damages our appreciation of it."

I think Mr. (Dr.?) Bloom has put his metaphorical finger on the entry wound of much of our dismay about MoV, and perhaps thinking this way may help staunch the blood flow.

Shylock is *both* the victim *and* a villain . . . and so, too, is Antonio.  For that matter, I have never particularly liked Portia, finding her courtroom performance smarmy and snide (yes, I too think the repeated use of "Jew" to address Shylock a verbal whiplash and intended to be such).

Indeed, in many ways MoV is a play of villains without heroes.  There's not a one of the characters I see as in any way dramatically or realistically heroic... or particularly likable, now I think about it! (Well, Tubal perhaps . . . )

I think, though, for me the play's effect hits most strongly when the "merciful" sentence is cast upon Shylock. Forced conversion is no mercy; it is in many ways the worst punishment possible, and the fact that it's considered a "happy" ending and a "gift" to Shylock makes considering the entirety of the play much more difficult for me.  Does that come from my being a Jew? I'm certain it does.

Mari Bonomi
A liberal but merely a fascinated student of Shakespeare, no scholarly intellectual . . .

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Harry Berger Jr < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         July 14, 2011 11:52:34 AM EDT
Subject:      Re: SHAKSPER: Revels; Rom Scholarship; MV

René Girard argues that although the Christians are eager to demonstrate their difference from the Jews, even the words they use to differentiate themselves are the same as those Shylock uses. “Everywhere the same senseless obsession with differences becomes exacerbated as it keeps defeating itself.” The assurance of the comic rhythm doesn’t purge this nastiness but lets it safely run its course. Portia’s performance as Balthasar is a case in point.

“He” is by turns brusque and disdainful toward both Shylock and Antonio. He addresses or refers to Antonio as “merchant” four times and doesn’t name him until line 370. He calls Shylock “Jew” nine times (three in direct address) and “Shylock” only thrice. But “Which is the merchant here, and which the Jew” arrows toward Antonio: Portia pretends she can’t distinguish her rival for Bassanio’s affections from the Jew.

Girard finds this surprising “in view of the enormous difference, visible to all,” which supposedly distinguishes Shylock from the Christians. But the motive behind Portia’s snide act of “undifferentiation” is clear. Her prosecution of Shylock both masks and expedites her pursuit of Antonio. Antonio is Portia’s Shylock. She proceeds in a manner calculated to let him sweat the outcome of a hearing that threatens him either with a painful loss of life or with a painful loss of Bassanio.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         John W Kennedy < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         July 14, 2011 2:55:12 PM EDT
Subject:      Re: SHAKSPER: Revels; Rom Scholarship; MV

Joseph Egert < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

>>John W Kennedy writes:
>>
>>And, of course, there is the fundamental fact here that
>>Shylock is irrelevant to the last act.
>
>JE: But given this 'fundamental' 'fact', shouldn't the play be "otherwise
>called the Iewess of Venyce"? No?

Why, so it may have been, for aught we know to the contrary. What of that? These things remain:

Shakespeare's titles are, as a rule, unimportant, and may not even be his own.

That being said, Shylock does not, in period use, qualify as a "merchant".

Shylock, having finished his part in the plot, is peremptorily dismissed from the play before the end of the fourth act.

I was only eleven years old when Walter Kerr published his opinion that Shylock is an adaptation of Pantalone. After over half a century, I still haven't encountered a better theory.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         July 14, 2011 5:44:47 PM EDT
Subject:      Re: SHAKSPER: Revels; Rom Scholarship; MV

Portia's speech of mercy is undercut by her repeated use of the word Jew when she addresses Shylock.

The quality of mercy is that it is extended to people one doesn't like. Offering leniency to one's friends isn't mercy, it's favoritism.

Is it politically incorrect to refer to someone as a Jew? I suppose the proper term is "Jew-ish"; something approaching the full state but not quite there.  This reminds me of someone who was traveling to Mexico and asked what the polite term was for a Mexican.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         David Bishop < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         July 14, 2011 7:40:52 PM EDT
Subject:      Re: SHAKSPER: Revels; Rom Scholarship; MV

Critics of MOV today mostly make what I think is the implausible assumption that Shakespeare, in a country almost without Jews, wrote this play, in part, to express his feelings about Jews: his dislike of Jews, or of anti-Semitism, or some intermediate, ambivalent attitude. More likely, I think, Shakespeare makes Shylock not authentically Jewish, dazzling trappings aside, but a disturbingly purified un-Christian. He shows the terrifying case of a man who believes in no divine command against revenge. Not even an ostensible Christian, he can’t be argued into mercy. Shakespeare uses Shylock to mirror, critically, the un-Christianity of his English audience, and human society. The figure of the Jew—the original, literal un-Christian—wonderfully suited, and was suited to, his purpose. But I don’t think Shakespeare would have written this play if there had been a Jewish community in London, as there was in Venice. For him, real Jews were safely out of the line of fire.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Joseph Egert < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         July 15, 2011 2:53:26 PM EDT
Subject:      Re: Merchant of Venice in a Las Vegas Setting

For those who may have missed it, here's a 17-min interview of James Shapiro on Shylock through the years, bracketed by clips of Pacino as the man "not bid for love."
 
  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-oAgzGzVSWk
 
Enjoy!
Joe Egert

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