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Home :: Archive :: 2013 :: August ::
Merchant of Venice—Recent Essay & Question

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0410  Friday, 23 August 2013

 

[1] From:        Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         August 23, 2013 5:38:06 AM EDT

     Subject:     Re: Merchant 

 

[2] From:        John Drakakis < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         August 23, 2013 6:08:12 AM EDT

     Subject:     RE: Merchant 

 

 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         August 23, 2013 5:38:06 AM EDT

Subject:     Re: Merchant

 

David Basch has returned to his favorite theme: 

 

Shylock was acting out what he saw as Christian villainy and hard-heartedness and that he had meant to renounce his “just claim” on Antonio in the bond before the open court.  But, unfortunately for character Shylock, Portia pulls the rug out from under him before he can present his intended grand gesture that would show that he is unlike the Christians in their phony mercy and would show himself merciful as befits true Jewish sensibility.

 

Right!: Like the defendant in the current trial in Georgia might say, “I wasn’t really going to shoot that baby in the face, but when she begged for mercy his wicked mother gave me no choice but to do what I said I would.”  

 

I’m surprised that Basch doesn’t cite the strongest evidence for his thesis:  Shylock’s first utterance after Portia’s set-piece speech on the nature of mercy is “My deeds upon my head!” (i.e., under my hat). By thus deliberately and unnecessarily disclosing the hiding place of crucial legal documents establishing title to his properties, Shylock makes himself vulnerable, thus demonstrating his good will. I can’t find any other line that suggests that Shylock intends to relent. Can Basch cite any? On the other hand, there are many in which he is urged to withdraw his demand, but he always refuses to do so. Perhaps that is Basch’s evidence: “How can you believe me when you know I am a liar?”

 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        John Drakakis < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         August 23, 2013 6:08:12 AM EDT

Subject:     RE: Merchant

 

For Susan Rojas,

 

Though the term ‘otherness’ is modern the concept was familiar to Elizabethan culture. In Shakespeare’s two Venetian plays (and it is important that they are both set mainly or, in the case of Othello partly, in Venice), the term used in the literature of the period was ‘strangers’. This is the title of Leslie Fiedler’s book ‘The Stranger in Shakespeare’ that appeared before the interest in Theory burgeoned. The term ‘Jew’ is much more problematical since it had resonances that were not exclusively (or even primarily during the period) ethnological. It is a term that accepts a degree of punning in Elizabethan and Jacobean parlance, and this needs to be factored in to any discussion of ‘otherness’

 

Difficult to know where to start with David Basch’s gallimaufry of bardolatry and half-realised observations. Perhaps a flea in his ear will set his creative mind buzzing yet again:

 

In the scene to which he refers, 3.1, where the Jew appeals to the Christian practice of ‘revenge’—and aside from our being able to read this as an instance of post-colonial hybridity—why is this a critical appeal to an Old Testament notion of justice when earlier in the play he has invoked an OT account that positively supports the taking of usury? Is there not an irony here that allows us to read this moment in two ways simultaneously? And should we not do this whenever the Jew quotes scripture, particularly in the light of Antonio’s comment in Act 1? Subtle the play most certainly is, even though it is very untidy in the form that it has come down to us. The difficulty is trying to hold the various perspectives that it offers in a form that will give it coherence. I am not sure that that is possible in this case. I hesitate to say that many of the issues that Basch raises are dealt with in my introduction and notes to the Arden 3 edition of the play, which I hope will persuade him to temper, if not modify, some of his more extravagant confusions. In short, I prefer the play that Shakespeare wrote rather than the one that Basch seems determined to foist upon us.

 

Cheers

John Drakakis

 
 

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