The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0422 Thursday, 29 August 2013
Date: August 27, 2013 4:26:37 PM EDT
Subject: Re: SHAKSPER: Shylock
David Bishop’s post illustrates a crucial fact about the Shylock controversy and, indeed, about every similar issue in the Canon: Where we stand depends on where we sit. As Bishop points out, for example, our evaluation of Jessica’s morality depends in large measure on whether we believe she was aware that the turquoise was her mother’s premarital gift to her father, which he cherished, and whether the restraints Shylock imposed on her were in care of her or to abuse her. Seen one way, Jessica’s theft rankles worse than the bite of a serpent’s tooth; she is more ungrateful with less cause than Goneril and Regan. Viewed another way, Jessica was merely obtaining needed recompense for the life of abuse she had been subjected to. Shakespeare doesn’t tell us if Jessica knew the provenance of the ring, or how restricted her life was, or whether the restrictions were out of a sense of paternal care of her or for some less meritorious motive. (By the way, contrary to Bishop’s assumption, we don’t know that Shylock kept her “immured from . . . marriage”; it is a fair presumption that, like Jews through the ages to and including today, he would have regarded his daughter as dead if she married outside his religion, but that is not the same thing as saying he prevented her from entering into marriage with a Jewish man. Again, Shakespeare is silent on the matter, leaving it for us to decide.)
Was Portia a racist? When Morocco chooses the wrong casket, she expresses relief: “let all of his complexion choose me so.” Whether or not we regard that as racist depends not on what Portia said but, rather, on whether we think it is racist to prefer to marry within our own race. If you think that is obnoxious, do you also regard the Jewish taboo of marrying outside the religion with the same distaste? These issues depend on the hearers’ feelings, not on the words Shakespeare wrote for the actors to say. He was usually very careful not to take sides; not out of political cowardice, but because it made for better theatre.
We really don’t know, and can never know, whether Shylock acts out of malice or justifiable outrage. Shakespeare doesn’t tell us; or, more accurately put, he tells us contradictory things (thus reflecting the actual human condition) and we can choose for ourselves how to harmonize or synthesize them. Harry Berger is spot on in making a similar point, as is John Drakakis although he differs in nuance.
Tell me about the critic and I will tell you what he or she thinks of Shylock. David Basch, for example, insists that Shylock is a commendable hero, the only admirable person in the play, who intends all along to save Antonio and sacrifice himself in order to assure Jessica’s patrimony, and Basch revises the action of the play to fit this theme. Surprising as this view is, we could predict that Basch would hold some such opinion once we learn that he has elsewhere urged the Israeli government to adopt a final solution to the Arab problem by absorbing the entire territory of the Palestine Mandate and expelling every last Arab from it. (He does not tell us where they should go or what should be done with them if they don’t go; be we can guess.) He has also defended Baruch Goldstein for murdering 29 Palestinian men, women and children at prayer in a mosque in Hebron, because Goldstein might have thought some of them called him a “dirty Jew.” Can we be surprised that someone who canonizes Goldstein would have a favorable view of Shylock?
I suppose John Drakakis was unaware of Basch’s other writings when he said that “Basch is too humane to be a liberal neo-con.” (As a neo-con myself [if I understand the term aright], I object to including Basch in the club. I would blackball him, but he would undoubtedly accuse me of anti-Semitism.)
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0420 Thursday, 29 August 2013
Date: Sunday, Aug 25, 2013 at 11:25 AM
Subject: Shakespeare, Jonson, and the 1602 Additions The Spanish Tragedy
I have a question for the community regarding Douglas Bruster’s “Shakespearean Spellings and Handwriting in the Additional Passages Printed in the 1602 Spanish Tragedy.”
Which is nicely summarized in this recent NYT piece:
Much Ado About Who: Is It Really Shakespeare?
Further Proof of Shakespeare’s Hand in ‘The Spanish Tragedy’
Bruster follows in a lengthy tradition going back at least to Coleridge, arguing (based on handwriting deductions referencing the presumed Shakespeare passage in H8) that Shakespeare, not Ben Jonson, wrote the 1602 Spanish Tragedy additions.
My question: how do those who claim this explain the solid external evidence of Henslowe’s payments to Jonson on 25 Sept. 1601 (“upon hn writtinge of his adicians in geronymo”) and 22 June 1602 (for “new adicyons for Jeronymo”)?
(cf. Foakes, Henslowe’s Diary second edition, pp. 183 and 203.)
If find that Brian Vickers rather skims past this question in his 2012 “Identifying Shakespeare’s Additions to The Spanish Tragedy (1602): A New(er) Approach”:
“It is worth observing that we do not know whether Jonson, or Bird ever delivered these additions”
And Bruster, in his brief four-page article, never mentions these entries, offering purely internal evidence (unless you consider the H8 handwriting analysis to be external evidence, somewhat removed and inevitably somewhat speculative).
I don’t have a dog in this fight, but am quite curious: if Shakespeare wrote the additions that appeared in 1602, what do people think Henslowe was paying Jonson for?