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

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0171  Tuesday, 26 July 2011

[1] From:      David Basch < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
      Date:      July 24, 2011 6:00:49 PM EDT
      Subj:      Re: SHAKSPER: Impressionist; Globe Cinema; Marche; MV

[2] From:      Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
      Date:      July 25, 2011 8:09:58 AM EDT
      Subj:      Re: SHAKSPER: Impressionist; Globe Cinema; Marche; MV


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         David Basch < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         July 24, 2011 6:00:49 PM EDT
Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Impressionist; Globe Cinema; Marche; MV

The last round of discussion concerning the Merchant of Venice is worth commenting on since it raises some interesting critical points.

With regard to Carol Barton’s comment answering Chris Kendall’s proposal that Shylock’s insistence on his bond was “a feint,” that is, a charade in order to get Antonio to beg for mercy from the very Jew that he earlier despised, Carol asks how this would be portrayed without altering Shakespeare’s text.

But in fact, a study of the text indicates that that is what the playwright did by implying this through the context of the situation of the play and through the words of the characters. We can see this if we examine the play closely.

If we do, we find Shylock is a gentle sort, expressed through such behavior as showing compassion for the slaves that the Venetians keep at home, allowing Launcelot to "gormandize," and in giving Antonia an interest free loan. It also shows up in the depth of Shylock's feeling about his human losses -- the loss of his daughter, his disoriented reaction at her betrayal and robbery of him. Shylock, without doubt, has the most depthful speeches of feeling in the play. Hence it appears altogether out of character that such a man would actually cut flesh from a living man. This is the kind of character and situation Shakespeare sets up so that this appears to clash with Shylock's supposed demonic intentions.

Sure, Shylock gets angry at his daughter's betrayals and expresses himself harshly, like a father who says, I'll kill that brat." Yet he spends much resources to find "the thief" and feels "no sighs but of my breathing; no tears but of my shedding."

To make sense of the contradiction -- Shylock's seeming bestiality and his portrayed sensitive heart -- it is the thesis of the "feint" that makes abundant sense. It is even suggested when Shylock answers Gratiano, the ruffian, who had asked whether any prayers can pierce Shylock's heart. Says Shylock, "None that thou hast wit enough to make." As a commentator long ago interpreted this interchange, Shylock is telling that prayers by Gratiano will not suffice, but that Shylock's answer is actually an invitation for Antonio to make such a plea. The problem for Shylock in the play is that Portia acts to freeze him in this demonic pose so that he cannot proceed to show the court that he had no intention to hurt Antonio, only to make him plead, to which Shylock would then render mercy.

Obviously, those who prefer a demonic Jew and an inept Shakespeare, do not wish to see this most possible scenario.

Donald Bloom asserted, "I could argue that Portia proves rather conclusively that Shylock did commit a crime,..." Sure, Portia insists Shylock sought Antonio's life -- a crime against Venice, which Donald finds "appalls me beyond description." But as was discussed above, the indications from the characterization of Shylock is that Shylock was indulging in a charade that had gone wrong.

Why do not audiences give the Jew the benefit of the doubt about that since the matter may be a tad ambiguous and indeed a possible scenario. (Claus von Buleau was set free for murdering his wife since there was a similar ambiguity about whether he did or did not poison her.) Clearly, the audience and many readers favor Portia rather than the Jew, although there is a great case that Shakespeare through his portrayal favored his Jewish character.

And if the fact is that Shylock was only indulging in a "feint," a charade, then he committed no crime.

In either case, Shylock was punished beyond any measure of the mercy that Portia had said was so glorious. But then, as Portia told us at the beginning of the play, "I can sooner teach twenty what were good to do than to be one of the twenty...." The mere fact of this in the play suggests that there is a more complex plot than many credit and that Shakespeare was clearly casting a critical eye toward Shylock's adversaries and invites a careful examination of where the playwright's sympathies lie.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         July 25, 2011 8:09:58 AM EDT
Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Impressionist; Globe Cinema; Marche; MV

This from Joe Egert:

>Larry Weiss asks, "Is it politically incorrect to refer to someone
>as a Jew?"
>
>JE: Larry, is the Duke being politically incorrect when he warns,
>"We all expect a gentle answer, Jew!"?
>
>JE: We all expect an honest answer, Lawman! :)

Even though Egert's question doesn't answer mine, I'll answer his: No.

("Lawman"?  Surely that is not the intended mot.)

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