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


The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0164  Tuesday, 19 July 2011

[1]  From:      David Bishop < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
      Date:      July 18, 2011 3:06:07 PM EDT
      Subj:      Re: SHAKSPER: Ophelia; MV

[2]  From:      Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
      Date:      July 19, 2011 7:12:50 AM EDT
      Subj:      Re: SHAKSPER: Ophelia; MV

[3]  From:      Donald Bloom < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
      Date:      July 19, 2011 8:17:00 AM EDT
      Subj:      Re: SHAKSPER: Ophelia; MV


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         David Bishop < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         July 18, 2011 3:06:07 PM EDT
Subject:      Re: SHAKSPER: Ophelia; MV

It is not unusual to hear people today say that Antonio and Bassanio, and often Portia, Lorenzo and Jessica, are portrayed by Shakespeare as bad people. I think this is anachronistic.

Aside from our awareness of the Holocaust, and the long history of anti-Semitism, one reason for this response is that we don't have the same background ideas and feelings about usury that Shakespeare was relying on. Usurers were conventionally thought of, and portrayed on the stage, not only as misers but as cruel exploiters, like bankers foreclosing on mortgages they sold to borrowers inadequately informed of their dangers. Desperate people went to usurers, who were infamous for making them painful offers they couldn't refuse. The "merry bond" of the pound of flesh is an ostensible joke on the stereotypical cruelty of usurers.

When Antonio pleads with Shylock for a renegotiation, and Shylock rejects him without pity, Antonio says,

He seeks my life, his reason well I know:
I oft delivered from his forfeitures
Many that have at times made moan to me;
Therefore he hates me. (3.3.21-4)

Antonio’s anger at Shylock, expressed in his spitting and spurning, is anger, not at the way Shylock treats him, but at the way Shylock treats the desperate people who come to him for help. Antonio delivers them from Shylock's cruel forfeitures.

On the other hand, when Shylock says he will give Antonio a free loan, Antonio sounds almost blissful: “Hie thee, gentle Jew./The Hebrew will turn Christian, he grows kind.”

Evidently what Antonio hates about Shylock is the way he acts. If he were to lend money freely, as Antonio does, Antonio would not be spitting on him and spurning him just for being a Jew. He would have trouble distinguishing between a Jew and a Christian. He is not spurning and spitting on Shylock in the way we imagine a Nazi might have in Berlin in 1938. Shylock says Antonio mistreats him because he is a Jew, but what we see in the play is an anger, even hatred, based on the way Shylock behaves. The religious "differences" take a different form than we're used to, and we have to learn to see the difference, to see what Shakespeare was trying to do, even if conveying that on the stage today is hard, almost impossible.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         July 19, 2011 7:12:50 AM EDT
Subject:      Re: SHAKSPER: Ophelia; MV

>The bargain that fails the contractual test of
>reasonability and legality on its face (attorneys
>--did such tests obtain in 16th century England?)

This raises the far more interesting and complex question of the development of equity and the interplay between the law courts and Chancery.  Much has been written on the subject, including disputation about whether the trial scene in M/V was intended to dramatize a particular case, Throckmorton’s Case.  It wasn’t.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Donald Bloom < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         July 19, 2011 8:17:00 AM EDT
Subject:      Re: SHAKSPER: Ophelia; MV

Last thoughts on this (for a while)

1) I'm glad that Carol Barton didn't think I was attacking her personally, although her response was rather severe. (I should have left out the "liberal-intellectual" business entirely, although I will continue to try and critique the attitude that I generally hold -- it's one of the ways that I separate "us" from the "others," who never doubt anything about their viewpoints and motives.)

2) I doubt if Shakespeare had any idea of either the acceptance of rejection of anti-Semitism. European culture was so steeped in it that it would have been a part of him without his being aware of it. But (to repeat myself) it was typical of him (and unheard of elsewhere) to consider the other side of villain, to make him a real person with wrongs that he's endured as well as wrongs that he's inflicted.

3) I think it's a sad loss that so many people, caught up in modern anger at the anti-Semitism, are unable to enjoy the romantic comedy that Shakespeare wrote. But that is a battle lost, I fear.

Cheers,
don

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