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The Merchant of Venice I. Dating: 1597-98, some two or three years after MND. No fairies, comic mechanicals; rather the hard-headed world of trade, money-lending, law. Even Bassanio’s motivation: “In Belmont is a lady richly left .”

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the merchant of venice i

The Merchant of Venice I

Dating: 1597-98, some two or three years after MND.

No fairies, comic mechanicals; rather the hard-headed world of trade, money-lending, law.

Even Bassanio’s motivation: “In Belmont is a lady richly left.”

Even conclusion of love story threatens nightmare: Portia: “Since he hath got the jewel I loved . . .” V, I , 224.

The “Tragedy of Shylock” embedded in the comedy.

the interpretive challenge of the play
The interpretive challenge of the play:
  • After the Holocaust, or Shoah, any anti-Semitism must take on a different meaning for our world.
  • So any modern production must mean differently from what the play meant to Elizabethans.
  • More than any other of Shakespeare’s plays, we see changes, alterations of meaning.
  • But play itself seems to suspend contradictory meanings.
  • Thus a wonderful test case of what we might mean by “classic.”
shylock and anti semitism
Shylock and anti-Semitism
  • How did Elizabethans understand Judaism?
  • Few Jews in Elizabethan London – they had been expelled three centuries earlier. But doubtless some in London.
  • Usury and moneylending.
  • Case of Rodrigo Lopez in 1593, a converso Portuguese Jew.
  • Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta. Barrabas as villain.
interpretive challenge of shylock
Interpretive challenge of Shylock
  • How to interpret anti-Semitism historically?
  • Anti-Semitism of Gratiano.
  • But also of Antonio and Bassanio.
  • Shylock’s hatred of Antonio: I, 3, 38ff.
  • Shylock in court scene.
  • Shylock’s “conversion” at end of court scene.
shylock as oppositional figure
Shylock as oppositional figure
  • Antonio’s generosity vs. Shylock’s usury.
  • Shylock as figure of locks, keys, bonds.
  • Shylock as “heavy” father – like Egeus in MND.
  • Wants to kill Antonio.
  • Genre: comedy drives out the villain.
but the logic of shylock s position
But the logic of Shylock’s position
  • “Signor Antonio, many a time and oft . . .” I, 3, 103.
  • Jewish money-lending as a system within Christian economy.
  • The logic of interest.
  • Charging of interest up to 10% legal in England.
  • “Usury”.
shylock s initial intent
Shylock’s initial intent?
  • “I hate him for he is a Christian.” I, 3, 39ff.
  • Do we know what does he intend in “this merry bond”? Simply humiliation?
a wilderness of monkeys
“A wilderness of monkeys”
  • Shakespeare’s “narrativizes” Shylock’s hatred.
  • Jessica’s elopement, II, 6.
  • Solanio’s mockery of Shylock, II, 9: “my daughter, oh my ducats, my daughter.”
  • Salarino and Solanio’s taunting of Shylock, III, 1, 21ff.
  • “what’s his reason? I am a Jew.”
  • His bitterness at Jessica’s betrayal.
  • “It was my turquoise; I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor. I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys.”
merchant as a play of ideas
Merchant as a play of ideas
  • Reinserting Shylock into the larger play.
  • Shylock as part of the Venetian system.
  • His opposition to Antonio structural.
  • But he undergirds the Venetian economy.
  • Bassanio in Belmont depends on Shylock’s money.
  • Isn’t Shylock absolutely right about the contradictions in Venetian/Christian economy?
  • Venetian law must underwrite Shylock’s bond – otherwise?
the bond
The bond
  • 3,000 ducats for 3 months, no interest.
  • But default means 1 pound of flesh.
  • Flesh, death, becomes equal to the interest?
  • Pay or you die: Antonio takes this risk.
  • “Merry bond” turns unmerry.
  • What’s missing on both sides?
shylock and portia balthasar
Shylock and Portia/Balthasar
  • “Which is the merchant here and which the Jew.” IV, 1 172.
  • “Then the Jew must be merciful.”
  • Why?
  • “The quality of mercy is not strained . . .”
  • Self-annihilation of absolute justice – this necessitates mercy.
  • Absolute denial of mercy – no physician standing by.
justice and mercy
Justice and Mercy
  • Denial of mercy leads to Shylock’s undoing.
  • Is he shown mercy?
  • His “conversion”.
  • Does Elizabethan unfamiliarity with Judaism allows this as mercy?
  • Idea consuming character at this point?
  • No more heard of Shylock until Nerissa’s letter at end of play.
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But this leads to the “ring plot”.
  • How does the ring plot connect to the bond plot?
  • And how is Belmont different from Venice?