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Lecture 6- "Merchant of Venice"

by: Miranda Browning

Lecture 6- "Merchant of Venice" ENG 209

Marketplace > North Carolina State University > English > ENG 209 > Lecture 6 Merchant of Venice
Miranda Browning
GPA 3.6

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Will help in completing Merchant of Venice Quiz and Weekly Summary Blog #4
Intro to Shakespeare
William Shaw
Class Notes
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This 4 page Class Notes was uploaded by Miranda Browning on Thursday September 8, 2016. The Class Notes belongs to ENG 209 at North Carolina State University taught by William Shaw in Fall 2016. Since its upload, it has received 6 views. For similar materials see Intro to Shakespeare in English at North Carolina State University.


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Date Created: 09/08/16
Lecture 6- “Merchant of Venice”  Catalogued in the first folio among Shakespeare’s romantic comedies.  Has always been a controversial, yet interesting play.  Consider the play as both a comedy and as another genre, such as a tragic comedy. In Comparison to Other Plays:  Number of common features in all of these plays; recognized as signature features of Shakespeare’s comedy.  Multiple Plots o Three love plots, with multiple marriages that derive from these o Bond plots (pound of flesh and the exchange of rings)  Dual Settings, where each setting has a set of value attached to them o Venice—place of business, intrigue, place of exchange (people trading for profit). Harsh kind of human exchanges. o Belmont— “beautiful mountain,” a place of romance and music, where people exchange vows of love rather than vows to pay $. Idea of romance, love, eternal vows, and marriage  Journeys o Not only journey from one place to another, but journey of the heart, soul, and mind.  Use of games, trials, practical jokes, and music o Several practical jokes played by Gabo on his father, and Shylock in the courtroom, for instance.  Love vs. Friendship, and multiple marriages o Theme developed out of the conflict between love and friendship and the love that forms out of close friends.  Tension between Father/Daughter o Discussing the patriarchal system where the daughter is the property of the father, and it is his prerogative to marry her off to whomever he chooses. Such that, the woman’s will does not matter.  Tension between Master/Servant o Poor treatment of servants as seen through the betrayal that occurs by Gabo  Comic Villain, or the “butt of jokes” = as seen through the character of Shylock “Merchant of Venice” Themes  Old Testament & New Testament (Law/Justice vs. Mercy/Forgiveness) o Interested in the sensibility which looks at competing ethos and ethics of Old & New Testament o The idea of law and justice and the prevailing code of “an eye for an eye,” “a tooth for a tooth”—such that this is the way justice would be dispensed in the Old Testament o New Testament— “turning the other cheer,” more focus on forgiveness and mercifulness.  The Meaning of “Bond” o Depicted in two expressions: (1) the pound of flesh, and (2) the exchange of rings  Sacrificing/Scapegoating o Sacrificing for others, giving up something of yourself for the welfare of others. Taking on the sins of others so that someone else can be forgiven o Or, projecting your sins or wrongdoing onto someone else and driving that person from your midst. Such to purge yourself of sins/crimes by pushing someone else away from the community, or life itself.  Very interested in these ideas throughout the play  In structuring the plot, he sets up a series of polarities that push us in a certain direction Chart  The dual setting, with two different worlds:  Belmont vs. Venice o Belmont is a Christian world, with people who subscribe to the New Testament and codes of mercy. o Shylock subscribes to the codes of the Old Testament. Thus, he wants justice and revenge. He wants revenge on Antonio and justice in the form of his bond. All of these values of the OT are embodied in Shylock, thus a character who stands for the various codes in the column. o Portia- gives a speech about the quality of mercy. Asks Shylock to relent on his request for exacting revenge on Antonio. So, she subscribes to these codes as they are embodied in her character. o Portia is referred to as an angel, as Belmont is described as a kind of Heaven. o Whereas, Jessica refers to her house as a kind of Hell in Venice, and Shylock is referred to a number of times as a devil. o Generosity is a value associated with the Christian community- as Antonio is willing to give up his life for his friend, Portia leaves her home to protect her friend- thus, a very communal spirit and sense of people being bound together. o With Shylock we see someone who is very hoarding of his $$$. He wants to protect everything he has just as he wants to protect himself within his community. Thus, more focus on the individual. o Lead us to believe that Shakespeare is setting up the Christian community as good; & Shylock, the Jew, as evil.  So, if you structure the plot with these values—as Shakespeare does, it seems that he is very much favoring the Christian community. And Shylock as someone who needs to be stopped, suppressed.  Suggest a Christian allegory- that justice is important in the world, but must be tempered by mercy. All of us in some way are corrupted, and must be conscious of our own sin.  True path to happiness is through the sort of Christian, New Testament ethos.  Questions to think about during this play: Do these polar values bear scrutiny in the play? Do they suggest a Christian Allegory? Or, do the values and allegory fracture and give way to ambivalences and ambiguities? Genre: Tragedy  Troubles in interpretation of the play are created by the character of Shylock.  Must understand to an extent the kind of a world Shakespeare received, and how he would have reacted to this idea of Jewishness.  Jews in England th o All the Jews were driven out of England under King Edward in the 12 Century. Forced on ships to leave. o In Shakespeare’s time- believed there were no more than 200-300 Jews in all of England. So, likely he may have never seen or interacted with a Jew, often described as “exotic creatures,” in England o Entire set of attitudes and prejudices towards Jews- when they refused to be converted, resisted even under persecution the conversion to Christianity.  Thus, always considered the outsiders.  Isolated to live in “ghettos” = the place in which Jews were located, where gates were closed on them at night. Word derived from that period in the Middle Ages.  Forced to wear red hats, and badges on their garments to signify them when they were in public.  Not considered full human beings- given by the church a status of 4/5 of a human. Thus, it was justifiable to do many of things to Jews (leading into a poor treatment of Jews).  Not allowed to participate in the professions, or attend the universities.  Not allowed to mingle into marriage or even buy property from Christians. o When Bubonic Plague hit Europe, there was a period of time in which people targeted the Jews.  Thus, accused of poisoning the wells and therefore demonized in a literal sense, because they were only 4/5 human.  They only took human form by killing Christian children & drinking their blood.  In demonizing the Jews in this way, it gave them justification for imposing harsh treatment on them.  Shylock as a Tragic Figure? o These are therefore some of the attitudes that Shakespeare would have inherited about the Jews.  Could possibly be taking a lot of these prejudices and received attitudes about Jews and altering them.  Setting it up so that Shylock is an identifiable villain, but then in some way begin to sabotage that idea. And if he does, then don’t we begin to look at Shylock as something other than a tragic figure? o So if we see shylock as not a two-dimensional figure, but as a three-dimensional figure (someone that comes to life)—then we have to look at the play in a different way.  He has ill-feeling toward Antonio and towards Christians. But, why is that? Because he is bad and hates all Christians, or from something in his past? So, is his behavior motivated, and then understandable if it is not justifiable.  If we look at him as a persecuted minority (someone treated badly) by a cruel Christian community, then we can understand why he is embittered and feels justified in his contempt. Thus, we can understand his behaviors.  Shakespeare provides instances in the text where this occurs: Antonio has spit on him, kicked him, tried to destroy his business/livelihood, and even admits he will do it again when he has to.  See Shylock talk about himself as being human like anybody else. Explain how if he is treated badly, he will treat other badly, and if treated well, he will treat others well. th th o Interestingly, in the 18 century and well into the 19 century, Shakespeare’s text was altered into the tragedy of Shylock rather than of the comedy of the lovers. The play ended with Shylock leaving the stage having been stripped of his wealth, and being forced to convert to Christianity. Questions for Performance  Begin to think about Shakespeare’s intentions. But, we don’t really know because he never explicitly told anyone of his intentions.  Must examine the text very carefully and look at each character in the play, not just Shylock.  If Played as a Comedy… o Doesn’t the role of Shylock become problematic. o Is it possible to play for comedy without favoring the Christians and stereotyping Shylock as evil and giving the play an anti-sematic tone? o Must assess and emphasize the villainous qualities in Shylock- seen through costuming, speech, movement. o Imagine him slumped over, wearing dark clothes, with a pointy nose, and an aggravated voice- almost a witch-like figure. o Christians shown as light, sturdy Arians with good stature, grace, charm, and generosity. Could also be shown by deleting lines in the play that put Christians in a bad light.  If Played as a Tragedy… o Tragedy of Shylock—as a man who is misunderstood and tormented by Christians. o Thus, becoming a play about anti-Semitism. o Have Shylock speak his lines with dignity and clarity and maybe clearly explain why he feels the way he does. o Also must show Christians in a different light—no longer loving members of the community (maybe they treat one another in a nice manner, but treat those who are different than them in a bad way)  What happens to the play if you “play the ambiguities”? o Is it still a comedy like Shakespeare’s other romantic comedies? Has it become tragic, or something else? Judging from the text, did Shakespeare intend the ambiguities? If so, does this “deep structure” he subvert his own surface meaning? o Would not consider the play a comedy, or a tragedy, but call the play a tragicomedy. o And even more a “problem play” – a play that is designed to make us uncomfortable and deal with unpleasant realities. o We have ambiguity—such that neither the Christians or Shylock are all good or all evil. They both have instances of good and bad behavior, whether motivated or not. o Play the ambiguities because this is what Shakespeare intended. o Deeper structure comes out of the language he writes for Shylock and the language for the Christians. & in the way they treat Shylock. “Merchant of Venice” Ambiguities  Genre: tragicomedy, elements of tragedy and comedy. But also a “problem play,” in that the problems are so complex they test us and make us think about our own behaviors and beliefs.  Portia o A charming, resourceful, loveable, clever—perfect romantic heroine o But on the other hand, a “manipulative, sardonic vixen.”  Antonio o Seems to be a loving and sacrificial friend, but on the other hand—a bigoted, self- righteous prig who thinks he is able to kick people, scorn them, and demean them.  Bassanio o A sensitive courtly lover- going to risk everything for her. But also has a clear sense of how to win over the girl. Thus, a playboy looking for a rich wife to help cover his own debts.  Shylock o Is he pure evil, or avenged and motivated by the wrongs that have been done to him?  Through all of these characters, we can see some combination of good and bad. And Shakespeare has intended that—leaving us to decide how to deal with this in production.


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