The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0116 Tuesday, 16 March 2010
Date: Thursday, March 4, 2010 10:04 PM
Subject: Trial Scene, MV
I have written an essay about the trial scene in The Merchant of Venice, demonstrating that Shakespeare wrote it as a kind of parody or satire of a trial and not as the dramatic, even tragic, event as has been traditionally described and performed. I have created a website for this essay, which is: http://shylocke.org. You may also access and download a pdf of this essay, and various supplementary materials, at http://public.me.com/wnblanton1.
This new perspective affects nearly every aspect of the play. I hope that scholars, and others interested in Shakespeare and in this play, will see this as an opportunity to reevaluate The Merchant of Venice. I would very much like to be part of that process.
I am a retired trial lawyer, and have researched sixteenth-century English law and procedure. Experts in that field from both Cambridge Law School and Warwick Law School have reviewed earlier drafts; consequently, I am confident that I have accurately described the state of the law and legal procedure at the time Shakespeare wrote the play.
I have also researched the many editions of, and books and scholarly articles concerning, The Merchant of Venice in general, and the trial scene in particular. I am well aware that my analysis is contrary to the prevailing understanding of the play and of this scene. I have explained in the essay why that is the case.
In recognition of the fact that I am neither a recognized Shakespearean scholar nor a faculty member in any English Literature Department, I have not written this essay in an academic style; nevertheless, it is a work of scholarship, primarily original scholarship.
I did a cursory review of Bill Blanton's article on the MV. Blanton examines the trial scene, which he considers to be the central scene of the play, as a trial lawyer and concludes that Shakespeare presents a preposterous trial that cannot be taken literally, calling all surface meanings into question and indicating that the meaning of the play is occurring on other levels. There is nothing new here: that something means other than what it appears is underlying principle behind deconstructive analysis, for example. However, that something means other than what it appears is also the underlying premise of the "pet" theories of many a conspiracy hunter and others of this sort. Although Blanton does not feel qualified to suggest what he thinks the play means, he does provide supplements that certainly indicate something about what he considers is going on in MV. Blanton's analysis reveals much about the practices of the legal system in Shakespeare's time, a system the playwright and his father were both familiar with as a consequence of their participation in that system. I found that I could not always accept the conclusions that Blanton draws from his evidence, but the evidence does inform us of legal practices during Shakespeare's time. Below is a passage from one of the supplements that as well as I can find acts as a thesis for the article:
The article demonstrates that the surface level of the trial scene (and of the entire play) cannot be taken literally, that something else must be going on. I stated in the article that Shakespeare made the surface level of the trial scene preposterous in order to further alert his audiences that the real action of the play was occurring on other levels of meaning. Although I have identified and researched a number of these levels, I did not address them in the article, for several reasons.
For one thing, the general concepts of "levels of meaning" and of something akin to allegory have been in scholarly disrepute for many decades. I therefore believed that it was essential first to demonstrate that the surface level of the plot could not be where the real action of the play was occurring; only then would anyone take the notion of other levels of meaning seriously.
For another, I am not qualified to discuss these levels. Any attempt on my part to do so would only have diminished the credibility of the main thrust of the article. That credibility rests on my training and experience as a trial lawyer, reexamining the facts of the trial scene from the perspective of an experienced litigator who has educated himself in sixteenth century English law and procedure.
I imagine that anyone with an interest in Early Modern legal matters would find something of value among the various pages at this site. I, however, take issue with many of the implications that appear here.
Hardy M. Cook
Editor of SHAKSPER
Bowie State University]
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