The Merchant of Venice. William Shakespeare. Dr. Gavin Richardson. Usury. Critical Terms: usury : Loaning money at exorbitant rates of interest, a practice condemned by Christian society during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. EXODUS 22:25
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Of Usury, from Brant’s StultiferaNavis (the Ship of Fools) Author: attributed to Albrecht Dürer
A woodcut of the ritual murder, by Jews, of the Christian boy Simon of Trent, 1453
1180s: Attempts at expulsion.1190: The massacre/mass suicide at York. A mob, incited by Crusade-era Anti-Semitism and a desire to destroy evidence of debts, traps York’s Jewish community in Clifford’s Tower.1200s: Heavy royal taxation of Jews; landholding restrictions.1290: Jews expelled from EnglandShakespeare’s first-hand knowledge of Jews?
“…Jews in small numbers had begun returning to England not long after their expulsion in 1290 . . . The total number of Jews in England during the Tudor and Stuart reigns at any one time probably did not exceed 150 or so.” Oxford Companion to Shakespeare 223-4.Backgrounds: Medieval English Anti-Semitism
Jews being persecuted; Chronicles of Offa, 13th c.
For more, see: http://www.geocities.com/athens/acropolis/7221/stagehistory.htm
O: Christ; R: The Doge kneeling before St. Mark;
Doge’s Palace, Venice
Shylock is a closely observed human being, not a bogeyman to frighten children in the nursery. In the theatre, the part has always attracted actors, and it has been played in a variety of ways. Shylock has sometimes been presented as the devil incarnate, sometimes as a comic villain gabbling absurdly about ducats and daughters. He has also been sentimentalized as a wronged and suffering father nobler by far than the people who triumph over him. Roughly the same range of interpretation can be found in criticism on the play. Shakespeare’s text suggests a truth more complex than any of these extremes.”
– Ann Barton, The Riverside Shakespeare, 285.
The ring of turquoise. Sympathy for Shylock? Foreshadows another ring and its loss (cf. Portia’s ring test of Bassanio).
PORTIA: … Happiest of all is that her gentle spiritCommits itself to yours to be directed,As from her lord, her governor, her king.Myself and what is mine to you and yoursIs now converted: but now I was the lordOf this fair mansion, master of my servants,Queen o'er myself: and even now, but now,This house, these servants and this same myselfAre yours, my lord: I give them with this ring;Which when you part from, lose, or give away,Let it presage the ruin of your loveAnd be my vantage to exclaim on you. 3.2.166-77
ANTONIO The duke cannot deny the course of law:For the commodity that strangers haveWith us in Venice, if it be denied,Will much impeach the justice of his state;Since that the trade and profit of the cityConsisteth of all nations. Therefore, go:These griefs and losses have so bated me,That I shall hardly spare a pound of fleshTo-morrow to my bloody creditor.Well, gaoler, on. Pray God, Bassanio comeTo see me pay his debt, and then I care not!
The Trial: DVD Chapters 18-24; 1:23-1:49 (26 mins).
New Testament language. Cf. Mark 8.
Portia and Shylock, Thomas Sully (English, 1783-1872)
With the ring test, Bassanio can fulfill pledge to give his all to save Antonio. If he loses it, he loses Portia and all he’s worked for.
Act 5: Portia taunts Bassanio for giving her ring away, but “Belmont is the land of the spirit, not the letter.”
“Bassanio’s comic trial suggests the judgment awaiting the Christian soul as it presents its final account and is found deficient. But Love, finally, is the fulfillment of the Law and covers all defects…” 343
The Comedic Ending: Antonio’s ships come in; the lovers married.