The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.022 Sunday, 15 January 2017
Date: January 14, 2017 at 12:25:30 PM EST
Subject: Re: SHAKSPER: MV
To Harry Berger Jr
I quote your concise response to my January 5 post in its entirety: “Omigod!”
Brevity may be the sole of wit, but you overdo it by precluding any dialog. It’s hardly even a log.
I interpret your response to express disagreement with my observations, as well as exasperation that anyone would have the nerve to present such silly notions to a group of serious scholars.
I can understand the disagreement. Your perspective is that of a professional person of Literature. I have acknowledged my ignorance as a student of Literature, and have stated that I am content to let those such as yourself do that sort of work with MV — except for the Trial Scene, concerning which I possess the better training and experience to analyze.
For purposes of this Dialog, I view MV from the perspective of something more like a cultural artifact than a work of Literature (although it certainly is that). The Elizabethans themselves did not consider their contemporary plays to be Literature. Thomas Bodley prohibited his librarian from including any such plays in the Bodleian. I believe that Shakespeare wrote this play for his contemporary English countrymen, concerning important contemporary English issues — chief among them the successive persecutions of the Protestants by the Catholics and vice versa. I do not deny its value as Literature; I’m only describing my own perspective.
You impliedly cast doubt on my identification of Lorenzo as representing Shakespeare, and of Shakespeare writing himself into the play as such and acting the part. One item of textual evidence that I did not include in my post is the following (from the First Folio):
So please my Lord the Duke, and all the Court
To quit the fine for one halfe of his goods,
I am content: so he will let me have
The other halfe in use, to render it
Upon his death, unto the Gentleman
That lately stole his daughter.
Note that Shakespeare capitalized the word "Gentleman." That Gentleman was Lorenzo. Shakespeare was writing MV in 1596, at the same time when he was successful in obtaining for his father (and himself) the coat of arms and the distinction of being a Gentleman (the exact date being October 20, 1596). I grant that this is not what one might call definitive proof, but it is at least some proof. Reliable evidence concerning Shakespeare's life has come mostly in drips and drabs. This drabby evidence was written by Shakespeare himself, and is thus worthy of some consideration.
I am disappointed at what I perceive to be your exasperation. Serious scholars ought to be able to consider new ideas seriously. How else can Shakespeare Studies advance?
I will submit my final post within the next two weeks. I would be very interested in what you — or anyone else — would have to say about the odd interchange between Portia and Bassanio involving the rack, treason, confessions, and the chopping off of various body parts.