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The Merchant of Venice. Day Two Slide Show ENGL 305 Dr. Fike. Review. MV includes a mixture of classical and Christian elements. Although not officially a problem comedy, it is darker than MSND (festive comedy) and is therefore a good example of what the Bedford calls “mixed modes.”

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the merchant of venice

The Merchant of Venice

Day Two Slide Show

ENGL 305

Dr. Fike

  • MV includes a mixture of classical and Christian elements.
  • Although not officially a problem comedy, it is darker than MSND (festive comedy) and is therefore a good example of what the Bedford calls “mixed modes.”
  • The sadness of Antonio, the central character, has numerous possible causes; but the ones that we favored last time are that he is overly fond of Bassanio, who is moving toward marriage, and that material acquisition is ultimately disappointing.
  • Shylock has a secret desire to harm Antonio, but private hatred becomes public motivation, possibly when he finds out that Jessica has traded the ring that Leah (his late wife) gave him.
why shylock seeks revenge
Why Shylock Seeks Revenge
  • We noted that Shylock’s “aside” indicates a desire to harm Antonio, but that private desire probably doesn’t become public intention until Shylock learns that Jessica has used his ring to buy a monkey.
  • On the next slide, I explore the psychological implications of their father-daughter relationship in terms of projection.
my take on shylock
My Take on Shylock

In The Merchant of Venice, the antagonistic pair of gendered opposites is the father/daughter syzygy of Shylock and Jessica. The Jew may be so leery of losing his daughter to romance because he has already lost his wife, Leah, to death; therefore, he possessively projects the part of his anima that appropriately attaches to a wife onto his daughter, an imbalance in which disappointment festers. “Just as the mother seems to be the first carrier of the projection-making factor for the son, so is the father for the daughter,” writes Jung (CW 9ii, 28/14). I am suggesting that projection, in Shylock and Jessica’s case, works in the opposite direction as well—the daughter receives the father’s projections. But when Jessica leaves with Lorenzo, taking Shylock’s money and an important anima-token, the ring that Leah gave him, he is deprived of father/daughter relations and reminded of the missing husband/wife conjunction. As a result, he becomes centered on himself and fixed on revenge. For Hillman, Jung’s syzygy theory accounts for such a reaction in the wake of psychological loss: “An animus that loses its soul (anima) connection, that posits itself as independent of the syzygy, is ego … [or] what Jung calls the ‘monotheism of consciousness.’” In Shylock’s case, ego-consciousness manifests as a desire for strict justice. [emphasis added]

--Dr. Fike

today s main topic venturing
Today’s Main Topic: Venturing
  • The American Heritage Dictionary: n. 1. An undertaking that is dangerous, daring, or of doubtful outcome. 2. Something at hazard in a venture; stake. --tr. 1. To expose to danger or risk. 2. To brave dangers of: ventured the high seas in a light boat.
more on venturing
More on Venturing
  • “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
  • Venturing involves risking something for the sake of gain.
usury one type of venturing
Usury: One Type of Venturing
  • Lending money at a rate of interest.
  • May I have readers for the next 6 slides?
jo mcmurtry understanding shakespeare s england a companion for the american reader pages 80 81
Jo McMurtry, Understanding Shakespeare’s England: A Companion for the American Reader, pages 80-81

“England, or for that matter western Europe, did not have in the sixteenth century banks of the sort we know today. No central banks offered customers the convenience of savings plans or personal loans. Banking functions were evolving in various parts of the economy, but one could not go to one place and conduct one’s financial business with the kind of assistance we know today. 

mcmurtry continued
McMurtry, continued

“With regard to the ease with which monetary operations could take place, a considerable difference existed between large-scale and small-scale transactions. A small businessman had no means of transferring money easily. With no paper currency and no regular systems of credit, he had to carry around bags of coins. A large trading company had more scope. It might, for example, set up a system of agents and pay its accounts through bills of exchange, thus keeping the wheels of commerce turning. Since these bills were drawn on a specific mercantile house, the necessary element of faith was easy to achieve. 

mcmurtry continued10
McMurtry, continued

“On this comparatively large scale, and particularly when the business was being done abroad, loans could be arranged, usually at a reasonable rate of interest because the borrower was not helpless and might seek better terms elsewhere. Nations as well as companies were involved here. The financial wizard Sir Thomas Gresham, for example, spent much of his career in Antwerp negotiating loans for the Tudor sovereigns. 

mcmurtry continued11
McMurtry, continued

“International finance owed a considerable amount of its growth to the Jewish moneylenders who in many countries of Europe had become an important part of the picture. Holland particularly welcomed refugees fleeing persecution elsewhere, in contrast to England’s continuing medieval bias. 

mcmurtry continued12
McMurtry, continued

“The association between Jews and lending money on interest, or usury, had been mandated, in the view of many Englishmen, by the Bible itself, which appeared to say that Jews might charge interest from Christians and that Christians should not charge interest from each other. Upon examination one finds that this interpretation depends on a somewhat twisted logic. In Exodus 22:25 and Deuteronomy 23:19, Jews are forbidden to lend money ‘upon usury’ to fellow Jews but are allowed (in Deuteronomy) to enter such transactions with ‘strangers’—interpreted as Christians, although an Old Testament text could hardly be specific about this particular type of stranger. Neither passage goes into the question of what kind of loans strangers are allowed to make to each other. 

mcmurtry continued13
McMurtry, continued

“Gradually, during the sixteenth century, England’s official attitude toward the charging of interest, whether by Jews or Christians, shifted. The view of capital as a commodity like any other—warehouse space, for example—to be made available for lease on certain terms, began to win practical acceptance, and the notion that money might ‘breed’ other money no longer seemed an offense against nature. Between 1545 and 1552, Parliament allowed certain types of interest-bearing loans to be made, provided the interest charged was no higher than ten percent. (This stipulation referred to transactions within England. Loans arranged in foreign countries, even if English merchants or the English government were involved, had never come under Parliament’s authority.) The ban on usury was renewed in 1552 but was finally lifted in 1571, the same year that Gresham opened the London Royal Exchange—a handsome, four-story building modeled after the bourse at Antwerp, with a central court surrounded by arcaded walkways where merchants might discuss business matters without having to stand in the rain. The building served as a quite practical symbol of England’s increasing prominence in the world’s economy.”

exodus 22 25
Exodus 22:25

“If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be to him as a creditor, and you shall not exact interest from him.”

deuteronomy 23 19 20
Deuteronomy 23:19-20

“You shall not lend upon interest to your brother, interest on money, interest on victuals, interest on anything that is lent for interest. To a foreigner you may lend upon interest, but to your brother you shall not lend upon interest; that the Lord your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land which you are entering to take possession of it” (emphasis added).

the point is
The Point Is…
  • The Jewish position was that you don’t lend money on interest to your brothers, but it is okay to loan money to a foreigner.
  • Christians interpreted this to mean that Jews could loan money to Christians.
what about the bond in mv
What About the Bond in MV?
  • It is NOT usurious!
  • It simply imposes a penalty, one that Shylock passes off as a joke.
  • In other words, the loan is in Christian terms—“gratis,” no interest.
  • Cf. 1.3.41: “He [Antonio] lends out money gratis and brings down / The rate of usance here with us in Venice.”
more on shylock and the bond
More on Shylock and the Bond
  • Shylock claims that loaning money without interest reflects his interest in brotherhood: “To buy his favor I extend this friendship” (1.3.167).
  • His actual intention, however, is more sinister—to “catch him [Antonio] upon the hip” (1.3.38-49).
  • And Shylock gets in trouble when he loans money on Christian terms—i.e., without interest.
a critic s view
A Critic’s View
  • “When he loans money without interest, he is forcing Antonio to borrow as friends and equals borrow.”
  • “He has been admitted to the society to the extent that he has been allowed to lend money gratis, as its members do.”
  • Source: Paula Brody, “Shylock’s Omophagia: A Ritual Approach to ‘The Merchant of Venice,’” Literature and Psychology 17 (1967), 230 and 232. (Omophagia is the eating of raw flesh.)
the problem
The Problem
  • But Shylock’s sinister intention regarding the bond makes it clear that Otherness is still a factor.
  • As the Bible says, there are brothers, and there are others.
  • Despite the interest-free loan, Antonio still views Shylock as one of the latter, and Shylock sees himself the same way. As a sign of this disconnection, the loan, while interest-free, is not penalty-free.
  • Point: Shakespeare is playing with the biblical background on usury, but ultimately the Jew is still the Other.
jews in early modern england
Jews in Early Modern England
  • See “Usury Handout.”
venturing and usury venturing and the caskets
Venturing and Usury;Venturing and the Caskets

These themes come together in the passages where Shylock justifies his business practices and where the suitors choose a casket.

Note: Those of you working on the casket scenes will need to divide the questions and passages up. (The casket handout is something one of my former students found; you are welcome to use it, but you may need to look beyond what it lays out.)

group activity ten minutes groups of 3 5 people
Your texts:


Genesis 30:25 to 31:16

What is the relationship between the two texts?

What is Shylock saying?

What is Antonio’s criticism?

How does venturing inform your reading of the two texts?


1.2.12-34: Portia’s father

2.7.13ff.: Morocco

2.9.19ff.: Aragon

3.2.1ff.: Bassanio

Why does Portia’s father establish the casket test?

Why don’t Morocco and Aragon choose correctly? Are they appropriate for her?

What about Bassanio? Is he more appropriate for her?

Does Portia play by the rules of the casket test when Bassanio chooses?

How is Belmont unlike Shylock’s house? See 2.3.2 and 2.5.29ff. Compare 5.1.60ff.

Group Activity: Ten Minutes, Groups of 3-5 People
shylock and biblical allusion
Shylock and Biblical Allusion
  • Your texts:
    • 1.3.69-100
    • Genesis 30:25 to 31:16
  • What is the relationship between the two texts?
  • What is Shylock saying?
  • What is Antonio’s criticism?
  • How does venturing inform your reading of the two texts?
questions about the casket test a particular venture
Questions about the Casket Test (a particular venture)
  • Why does Portia’s father establish the casket test? See 1.2.27.
  • Why don’t Morocco and Aragon choose correctly? Are they appropriate for her?
  • Does Portia play by the rules of the casket test when Bassanio chooses?
  • What about Bassanio? Is he more appropriate for her? See 1.1.161-63, 1.2.110, and 3.2.77.
  • How is Belmont unlike Shylock’s house? See 2.3.2 and 2.5.29ff. Compare 5.1.60ff.
third time s a charm
“Third time’s a charm.”
  • Numerology is to mathematics as astrology is to astronomy.
  • The number 3 suggests:
    • Union of opposites (male and female) in marriage.
    • Reunification/reconciliation.
    • Wholeness/completeness.
    • Unity, harmony, human love, and divine love (Trinity).
from a bulgarian student s undergraduate term paper
From a Bulgarian Student’s Undergraduate Term Paper

“Thus, there is a kind of heavenly aura about the number three as a sign of divine love which unites two lovers into one. It combines the limited nature of each to generate a limitless experience shared by both. It leads to the highest expression of love, which unites all lovers in general. In this sense we can conclude that the presence of the number three as a major motif in the casket scene in MV is a favorable omen for the choice that needs to be made by Portia’s wooers. The use of that number suggests that love, in its noblest form will triumph in the end.”

more on venturing29
More on Venturing
  • How else does MV make use of the motif of venturing?
  • What other examples are there?
  • Brainstorm: Write down examples in your notes. You might go right down the list of characters before 1.1 and consider each one in terms of venturing.
  • Share them with the class.
summary of venturing
Summary of Venturing
  • Antonio sends his ships abroad.
  • Shylock loans Antonio money.
  • Antonio loans Bassanio money (again). See 1.1.140ff.
  • Jessica runs away with Lorenzo (cf. Rachel).
  • Lorenzo runs away with Jessica (cf. Jacob in a foreign land: Shylock:Jessica::Laban:Rachel).
  • The suitors: Morocco, Aragon, Bassanio venture (3.2.10) for Portia’s hand in marriage. See 2.7.9 and 2.9.31ff. (For a connection between Morocco and Lancelot, see 3.5.36-37. Does Portia fear miscegenation?)
  • Lancelot ventures when he switches from Shylock to Bassanio (cf. the shift from the Old Testament to the New Testament). (Lancelot:Old Gobbo::Jacob:Isaac.)
  • Prodigal son allusion: “the prodigal Christian,” 2.5.16. (Prodigality means both extreme wastefulness [son] and extreme generosity [father]. Cf. Sylvan Barnet’s article, “Prodigality and Time in The Merchant of Venice” in PMLA 87.)
  • Jason: 1.1.170, 3.2.241-42. (Jason’s success with the golden fleece is the opposite of the prodigal son’s unsuccessful venture.) END