The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.264 Monday, 8 August 2016
Date: August 7, 2016 at 5:20:11 PM EDT
Subject: MV Dialog
To John Drakakis:
Thank you very much for the more specific response. This is more like the dialog that I wanted.
I do not assume that Shakespeare had an “intimate knowledge of Elizabethan court politics,” whatever that means. Shakespeare did have better access to details about Elizabethan court politics than most. After all, he had an intimate relationship with the Earl of Southampton. At the time Shakespeare was writing The Merchant of Venice, Southampton was having an affair with Elizabeth Vernon, who was a Lady-in-Waiting to the Queen and a cousin of the Earl of Essex. Southampton was also a devotee of the Earl, who was himself a member of the Privy Council. Essex’s wife was the daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham and the widow of Sir Philip Sydney.
Southampton and Essex were both frequent playgoers. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that some or all of these individuals who did have such “intimate knowledge” might have shared some interesting tidbits with Shakespeare. Of course no direct evidence exists concerning any such conversations.
In any event, most of the examples I have provided — and those to come — would have been known to most alert, well-educated Londoners. “Intimate knowledge of Elizabethan court politics” would not be required in order to connect the Portia of the play with the Queen.
I gather that by “aristocratic history” you mean history focused on aristocrats. I do not claim that my analysis is “objective.” I have admitted from the outset that speculation is involved. There’s just no getting around it, given the complete lack of contemporary evidence concerning the play.
My reasoning did not begin with any speculation concerning Elizabethan court politics. It began with the realization that Shylock was really the Devil disguised as a Jew. As I researched that aspect, I moved on to the Court Scene. I then realized that Shakespeare wrote the scene in such a ridiculous way that almost everybody in his audiences would have known that it could not have been a serious, semi-realistic trial. Something Else had to be going on.
Given that no scholars have accepted my invitation to explore this matter, I am doing the best I can. We will discuss what I think the Something Else might be and what the “causal connections” might be quite a bit later. But first we have to understand just who the characters are.
Please be patient. It is premature to draw conclusions about my analysis at this early stage of our dialog. I hope you will take my suggestion to have some knowledgeable legal scholar in your law school read my article (http://www.shylocke.org) and give you their opinion.
You ask about my methodology. If you mean some formal construct, I have none. My entire focus is on Shakespeare’s words in the text; specifically, the text in the First Folio. I honor Shakespeare’s words, believing that he meant every one of them as he wrote them down. I further believe it is a serious mistake to change any of Shakespeare’s words. It’s not Shakespeare’s fault if someone cannot figure out what he was getting at.
Once I bump into a word or phrase or action that strikes me as odd, I do some more research, read the text several more times, and do more thinking until I have arrived at a satisfactory explanation, or until I give up on it.
By “English Reformation” I mean that period between the time Henry VIII declared himself the Supreme Head of the Anglican Church to the year 1598, when the play was probably first produced. Specifically, the wrenches in English society from the changes in the state religion: from Catholic to crypto-Catholic to Protestant back to Catholic and back again to Protestant.
I mean more particularly the persecution of the English Catholics by Elizabeth and her administration, with a nod to the previous persecution of the English Protestants by Bloody Mary. The torture and brutal executions of the Jesuits. Stiff fines for recusancy. Closing off most positions from Catholics. That sort of thing.
I hope to show by my analysis that Shakespeare was involved at least to the extent of “opening men’s eyes” to what was going on, with a view to a reconciliation between the two faiths. He was also involved in the Essex Rebellion when he and his acting company put on a performance of Richard the Second just before that doomed effort. I cannot speak to his other plays, which may or may not include matters similar to what I have found in MV.
Shakespeare used the name “Portia” in JC because that was in fact the name of Brutus’s wife. I have not analyzed that play and cannot say what other meanings it may have. His use of that name in MV refers to that historical fact. I do not believe it was coincidental.
I hope it is clear that I do not contend that the Belmont Portia is the Roman Portia. The relationship is associative, not factual.
Why do you suppose Shakespeare used that name?
I have no idea exactly why Shakespeare would do something as risky as “imagine the death of the monarch,” an offense which was punishable by death. I suspect that Shakespeare was angry with Elizabeth and her administration, which had engineered the death of Christopher Marlowe.
The “select few” for which this reference would have had such a meaning might have been only Essex and Southampton. This might be something akin to the Sonnets. Only a “select few” would fully understand to whom and about what Shakespeare was writing.
To answer your question. Shakespeare would have been interested in “regime change” for at least two reasons. First, Elizabeth and her administration were continuing their persecutions of English Catholics with no mercy in sight. Second, Southampton and Essex were soon to be cut off from all patronage, and from the income generated by Essex’s farm on sweet wines. A “regime change” that vested control of the government in Essex’s hands would solve both problems.
We will discuss this later when I try to put things together in some intelligible way.
I do not contend that Elizabeth was the only woman to use make-up. I do contend that she was the only well-known woman who was so public with her whiteface make-up.
It’s not my “might.” It’s yours. A = B. B = C. Therefore, A = C. Portia connects to Diana. Diana connects to Elizabeth. Therefore, Portia connects to Elizabeth. 2 + 2 = 4.
I do not contend that Shakespeare was “in cahoots” with the Master of Revels. I very plainly said that the acting companies and the Master of Revels had worked out an understanding so that the acting companies and the playwrights would know what was acceptable and what was not acceptable. That way the acting companies would not waste their time with plays that would not be allowed to be produced.
I mentioned the relationship of the Master of Revels to the Lord Chamberlain, and the Lord Chamberlain’s relationship to the queen, as a suggestion that perhaps the Master of Revels may have cut Shakespeare and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men some slack when it came to approving plays for performance. Just a suggestion.
I do contend that much of what I have discovered about Elizabeth was available to those members of the audience who understood that there was a Political/Religious/Current Events dimension of meaning in the play. Unfortunately, we have no record of any of the aspects of performance, such as costumes, make-up, mimicry, and the like, which might well have indicated such a dimension to the audiences.
I definitely do not want to narrow my analysis down to Elizabeth and Essex. Stay tuned.
Lewekenor’s translation did not appear until at least a year after Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice. Money had at least as much to do with London as with Venice. In fact, the Puritans in London were often called “Christian Jews.”
Are you saying that the English felt threatened by Venice’s supposed republican nature? We will have to agree to disagree for the nonce on Venice’s identity with London on the Political/Religious/Current Events Dimension of Meaning.
I am indeed trying to demonstrate that Shakespeare wrote MV in a particular cultural context, and made many specific references to that context in the text of the play. And the play is all the richer for it.
To Sidney Lubow:
Very droll. Wouldn’t put it past him.
Thanks for the chuckle.
Thanks to all