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

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0414  Monday, 26 August 2013

 

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

     Date:         August 23, 2013 7:37:20 PM EDT

     Subject:     RE: SHAKSPER: Merchant

 

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

     Date:         August 25, 2013 1:29:19 PM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Merchant

 

[3] From:        Harry Berger Jr < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         August 26, 2013 3:25:32 AM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Merchant

 

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

     Date:         August 25, 2013 9:34:29 AM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Merchant

 

 

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

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

Date:         August 23, 2013 7:37:20 PM EDT

Subject:     RE: SHAKSPER: Merchant

 

On strangers in Merchant . . . 

 

Free access currently granted to these two recent articles in the journal Shakespeare:

 

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17450918.2013.766633#.Uhfxo39212A

 

Duncan Salkeld

 

The Resonables of Boroughside, Southwark: An Elizabethan

Black Family Near The Rose Theatre

By Imtiaz Habib

 

This article focuses on the archival records of a black family in Boroughside, Southwark and St. Olave, Tooley Street between 1579 and 1592. Given the proximity of this precinct, immediately adjacent to Southwark with its busy theatrical connections, including the appearance in it of Phillip Henslowe’s Rose Theatre in 1587 and Shakespeare’s own residence close by, this article will argue that the history of this man called Resonable and his family casts an intriguing new light on the material conditions of the production of Elizabethan drama including that of Shakespeare. The article will pursue two objectives: it will sketch a history of this black family in its locale of residence, and it will construct some lines of contact between this palpable black presence right next to the venue of Elizabethan drama’s and Shakespeare’s earliest and most influential plays, in the most formative years of both. In pursuing the first objective, the article will demonstrate the methodology of empirical black studies in the early modern period, and in prosecuting the second it will show the value of such studies in understanding further the vexatious topic of the black subject in Shakespeare and popular early theatre. 

 

AND

 

Alienating Laughter In The Merchant of Venice: A Reply to Imtiaz Habib

By Duncan Salkeld

 

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

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

Date:         August 25, 2013 1:29:19 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Merchant

 

As John Drakakis noted in his comment, “I prefer the play that Shakespeare wrote . . . ”, which I am sure we all do and which truth we are all trying to establish. What indeed was the story Shakespeare intended to write as his Merchant of Venice and what is the story that interpreters intend to substitute for that truth? I think that the true one shows Shakespeare free of anti-Semitic intent in this play, showing the hypocrisy of Shylock’s enemies and the Jew, Shylock, as their victim as a result of some of Shylock’s unwise actions.

 

Shakespeare tells us at the beginning of the play about Portia in her own words: “If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, . . .  I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done, than be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching. . . . ” If we take her words seriously, we can more easily see that after she urges mercy on Shylock as the proper course, that when she has pulled the rug from Shylock, she gives him no mercy. That is why it is important to the play to realize that the offer to the defeated Shylock was barren of mercy. I tried to make this clear when I interpreted the offer Antonio makes to Shylock. What is unclear about his offer is the word “quit,” which many take to mean that Antonio means that he rejects receiving this half. Says Antonio:

 

       So please my lord the duke and all the court

       To QUIT the fine for one half of his goods,

       I am content; so he will let me have

       The other half in use,...

 

But in fact, I am informed, that the word “quit” is also short for the phrase “quietus est,” which means, “account (or case) settled (resolved)” in many kinds of judicial proceedings, from accountings, to fines, to murder cases.” In other words, Antonio takes this half as closing the case with Shylock but only if he has the other half “in use, to render it, Upon his death, unto the gentleman / That lately stole his daughter:” Note here that Shakespeare has Antonio admit that Lorenzo actually “stole” the Jew’s daughter, who was obviously a minor. [The point on “quit” was as mentioned in a note by Anthony Burton.]

 

But Shakespeare also gives clues to Shylock’s intent when he says to Tubal, “I am very glad of it [Antonio’s losses]: I’ll plague him; I’ll torture him: I am glad of it.” Note Shylock does not say he would kill him.

 

I have also mentioned what I learned from reading Abraham Morevsky’s book, Shakespeare and Shylock. Morevsky, an actor-director, pointed out the melodramatic nature of events in the court, in which Shylock is surrounded by people hostile to him, and in which Bassanio states, “The Jew shall have my flesh, blood, bones and all, / Ere thou shalt lose for me one drop of blood.” Morevsky learns from this remark that those friends of Antonio in the court have no intention of letting Shylock harm Antonio but are only looking for a way to wrest the court judgment away from Shylock in order to uphold Venice’s laws.

 

Morevsky goes on to point out the remark by Gratiano to Shylock, when Gratiano says, “Can no prayers pierce thee?,” to which Shylock answers, “No, none that THOU hast wit enough to make.” Morevsky sees in Shylock’s answer a rejection of “THOU,” the ruffian Gratiano’s plea, but has left open a plea to be made in court by Antonio. Shylock wants to humble the Jew-hater Antonio publicly before the whole court, which is why Shylock had earlier rejected private pleas. And that when Shylock had publicly humbled Antonio, Morevsky sees that the Shylock, who had spoken against the ill-treatment of Venetian slaves and who speaks the most soulful and deep emotional expressions in the play, would, in character, publicly renounce his bond. Morevsky held that this intention of Shylock, undermined by Portia’s interference, brings many of the contradiction in the play into harmony.

 

I think that this view of events presented in a court of law, putting Shylock on appeal, would bring him victory, as happened in a famous trial of the killer of Sonny Von Bulow, who received a reversal of fortune. What occurred there was that the lawyer provided an alternative explanation of the same events that doomed Mr. Von Bulow. And here in the case of Shylock there is an alternative scenario to interpret events, one that exculpates Shylock, and, in my mind, one superior to the accepted scenario that leaves out the carefully analyzed points that Morevsky presented in his book.

 

Interestingly, Shylock is unwise in thinking he can get justice from a hostile court and has failed to heed a line in Proverbs that urges that one not go to court lest you be embarrassed, unless one knows what the verdict will be in advance.

 

If we are looking for the Merchant play that Shakespeare wrote, I believe due thought should be given to accepting the version that preserves Shakespeare as a champion of the underdog and an author that wrote to future ages when he has the dark skinned Morocco assert the brotherhood of all men in the red color of blood in a contest with the “fairest blond” in which blood is drawn for love of Portia. This moral is the essence of Shakespeare’s play and extends to all of the “others” in the play.

 

David Basch

 

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------

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

Date:         August 26, 2013 3:25:32 AM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Merchant

 

According to David Basch, “Portia’s failure to identify the Jew” means that “contrary to prejudice, Jews are not readily identified as other.”

 

This is no doubt one way to interpret that failure. Here’s another: in performing as Balthasar, Portia 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 doesn’t simply fail to identify the Jew. She pretends she can’t distinguish Antonio, her rival for Bassanio’s affections, from the Jew. Thus the “failure to identify the Jew” has less to do with the general question of Jewish identifiability than with the specific move one character makes against another at one point in one play.

 

MV may well be about race relations. There’s nothing wrong with Basch’s statement in that respect. But MV is also about people relations. I learn much less about the play from Basch’s generalizations about Jews than I do from my own particular readings of what happens from word to word, speech to speech, moment to moment, and action to action.

 

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------

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

Date:         August 25, 2013 9:34:29 AM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Merchant

 

To Larry Weiss and David Basch, Shylock was probably a creation by Shakespeare of a shadowy person, named Michael Lok, who took the investment of Queen Elizabeth I and others to find gold.  The investors lost their money when he returned with fool's gold. Shakespeare might have been one of the fools  and wrote the play around the rascal. 

 

Michael Lok, look him up or lock him up.

 

Sid Lubow

 

 

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