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TOPIC: Context and THE MERCHANT OF VENICE

Context and THE MERCHANT OF VENICE 7 years 3 months ago #4396

  • John W. Koch
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My purpose is to document linguistic connections in THE MERCHANT to ROMEO AND JULIET. In ROM, the friar is introduced with a soliloquy where the terms "spirit" and "flesh" from scripture become "grace" and "rude will." In MV, the clown is also introduced with a soliloquy and the above terms become "The fiend" and " My conscience." The clown's speech is plainly intended, in part, to note the difficulty some of us have distinguishing between the two. The first line in MV, "In sooth, I know not why I am so sad," might recall Romeo's first appearance: "What sadness lengthens Romeo's hours?" Romeo's "Here's much to do with hate but more with love," resonates with Shylock's "I hate......But more for that in low simplicity / He lends out money gratis......" As multiple causes of Antonio's sadness are presented explicitly and implicitly, so too with Shylock. When MV was first presented, Shakespeare's audience may have recalled Romeo's "O tell me, Friar, tell me, / In what vile part of this anatomy / Doth my name lodge? Tell me, that I may sack / The hateful mansion"(3.3) and "The time and my intents are savage-wild, / More fierce and more inexorable far / Than empty tigers or the roaring sea"(5.3), prompted by such stuff as "More than a lodged hate......You may as well go stand upon the beach / And bid the main flood bate his usual height; / You may as well use question with the wolf......inexecrable dog!.......On what compulsion must I? Tell me that"(4.1). If one of Shakespeare's purposes was to hold, as it were, a mirror up to nature, then while Antonio may be homosexual, he is more likely heterosexual and we have another love triangle: Shylock, Leah and Antonio(Romeo and Count Paris fight outside the tomb where Juliet lies).
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Context and THE MERCHANT OF VENICE 7 years 2 months ago #4551

  • Julian Lopez-Morillas
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John,

A few thoughts about your posting:

I'm not sure I would specifically equate Laurence's evocation of "grace and rude will" with "spirit" and "flesh." It seems to me that he is articulating a variation of classic Church doctrine: that God's "grace"-- the limitless forgiveness that Christ's sacrifice offers humanity-- is always bumping up against man's "rude will"-- his waywardness, his fallibility and susceptibility to sin. "Willfulness" might be the best gloss in modern English. Remember that Shakespeare often uses "will" in a specifically sexual sense of desire or lust (even punning on his own name in Sonnet 135). The metaphor there is an analogy between the medicinal/poisonous duality of plants (the Greek word pharmakon means both "drug" and "poison") and the battle for man's soul between our good and evil "angels." This potentially represents a stronger analogy to your other reference, the Gobbo speech, as he specifically acts out a quandary between the "fiend... at mine elbow" and "my conscience" which are (comically) represented as tugging him back and forth between duty and the lure of greener pastures elsewhere-- service to a Christian. The Elizabethan audience would have been familiar with this representation (which I've also seen in modern cartoons, with, say, a little "angel" Donald-- wings and halo-- and a little "devil" Donald-- horns and tail-- perched on Donald Duck's shoulders, urging him to fight or give into temptation) from the tradition of the morality plays, specifically to the use of their conventions in Doctor Faustus, which had recently been a big popular success on the London stage.

As to the "sadness" issue, a couple of thoughts: we shouldn't overstate the "depression" element in the Elizabethan use of "sad." At times, it seems to mean little more than "serious-faced," as in Rosalind's "speak sad brow and true maid" (AYLI III, ii, 214) or the expression "in good sadness" which seems to mean something like "But seriously now..." That said, it's clear that Antonio's friends are concerned about him, a concern hinted at in Gratiano's line "But fish not with this melancholy bait/For this fool gudgeon, this opinion" (I, i, 101-2). Melancholy, as Renaissance medical thought saw it, was a much more threatening condition than mere "sadness;" it could grow to the dimensions of a pathology-- see Hamlet, or Bosola in The Duchess of Malfi. Gratiano only uses the word once, in passing; but Solanio, a few lines earlier, gives a hint which may lead you back to Romeo again: "Why then, you are in love" (l. 46)-- which, though Antonio scoffs at it, points to the belief in the specific diagnosis of "lover's melancholy," which appears to be what Romeo is experiencing or thinks he is experiencing due to his sexual rejection at the hands of Rosalind. Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy might give you a good overview of how Shakespeare and his contemporaries viewed the question.

Your analogy between Shylock's language in the trial scene and Romeo's seems to me more far-fetched; I don't feel that the use of a couple of common images is persuasive enough to make that connection.
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Context and THE MERCHANT OF VENICE 7 years 2 months ago #4569

  • John W. Koch
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To jlmshxpere, -- -- Thanks for your engaging and informative notes. given that my above posting is "Brief as the lightning in the collied night," the phrase "far-fetched" might occur. Therefore, I will add to it. The end of MV, "Nerissa's ring," might recall Shylock's ring that he had from Leah and Juliet's "give this ring to my true knight"(3.2)," and again Romeo's speech to his man: "chiefly to take thence from her dead finger / A precious ring." Juliet's "O nature, what hadst thou to do in hell when thou didst bower the spirit of a fiend in mortal paradise of such sweet flesh" resonates as above and "nature" occurs in the Friar's soliloquy. When the Duke judges the penalty Shylock must pay we find the word "spirit" yet again. Call this the "sentimentalist" or "romantic" view if you like, yet further comparison of the two plays simply yields more correspondencies.
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Context and THE MERCHANT OF VENICE 7 years 2 months ago #4570

  • Julian Lopez-Morillas
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Hello John,

Glad you found my remarks helpful. Duly noted that themes can be found that relate the two plays to each other-- hardly surprising given that the two plays were written within a span of a couple of years. Though I wouldn't place undue emphasis on language which is so pervasive across all of Shakespeare's plays. The ring, for instance, is an important thematic motif/plot point in ALL'S WELL, TWO GENTS, COMEDY OF ERRORS, TWELFTH NIGHT, CYMBELINE and even HENRY VIII, as well as the two plays you're dealing with. I'd suggest that the reason why it operates as such a potent symbol, especially in plays with themes of romantic love, is that it represents the ever-important theme of keeping (or breaking) faith, which is endemic to dramatic tension in any love plot.

Likewise, the concept of "nature" occupies an important thematic place in LEAR, TEMPEST, AS YOU, ALL'S WELL, TWELFTH NIGHT, HAMLET, MACBETH, TIMON, and CORIOLANUS among others-- it's a favorite theme, as a perusal of a concordance under "nature" (and its cousins "natural" and "unnatural") will reveal. But I think your method-- close attention to words and themes that recur across the whole spectrum of Shakespeare's works-- is among the best approaches to seeking out where Shakespeare's artistic interests lie. I salute the spirit of inquiry that has led you to question the texts in this way.

Julian
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Context and THE MERCHANT OF VENICE 7 years 2 months ago #4589

  • John W. Koch
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Julian Thanks again for your cautionary notes. Given your listings of plays I do confess that I have read less than half of the 37. Perhaps for some of us many plays are inaccessible until heard. Given that MV is an early play one might say that there are a few nice proverbial bits and move on. Or that it is a fairy tale(Antonio and Shylock are angry at each other and the nice lady tells them to straighten up and fly right). Or that it "is all myth and allegory"(Antonio represents Christianity, Shylock Judaism and Portia Athena from the conclusion of THE ODYSSEY). Returning then to my purpose, Gratiano's "inexecrable" has been explained by some to be an intensive, that is the "in" is a linguistic element that increases the semantic effect of execrable. Some editors have substituted "inexorable" for "inexecrable." Given Basanio's comment that Gratiano speaks an infinite deal of nothing, one might argue that "inexecrable" is an example of deliberate equivocation from Shakespeare. At any rate, inexecrable is rare and supports my contention that Antonio's "You may as well...........use question with the wolf" was intended to recall Romeo's "The time and........roaring sea"(see my first post). A great deal of Salarino/Salerio's speech corresponds to ROM. One example is this: "Never did I know a creature that did bear the shape of man, so keen and greedy to confound a man"(I think that's how it goes). "Shape of man" corresponds to the Friar's reply to Romeo's above quoted question. "Creature" is spoken by Count Paris and Hamlet(The Count referring to Juliet and Hamlet to himself). "Confound" is equivocal as it is reasonable to say that he finds Shylock's behavior puzzling(compare Hamlet's use of "confound" in his speech to the players. Enough for now.
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Context and THE MERCHANT OF VENICE 7 years 1 month ago #4638

  • John W. Koch
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As E. B. White said: Salutations. Regarding the question of whether Salarino/Salerio are one, two or three characters(two Salerios), all seem to agree that one Salerio has a couple of lines in the court scene. He may then be an employee of the Duke and the above quoted speech indicates that Shylock seems intent on confusing him: "He plies the Duke at morning and at night"(3.2). Juliet's above speech corresponds to Gratiano's "Thou almost mak'st me waver in my faith / To hold opinion with Pythagoras, / That souls of animals infuse themselves / Into the trunks of men." One might then argue that the principal theme in MV is that no play, as it were, is an island(THE TEMPEST being the exception that proves the rule). Therefore Prospero's "project" (from the epilogue) is all of Shakespeare's work(see also Peter Quince's prologue in MND).
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Context and THE MERCHANT OF VENICE 6 years 10 months ago #4818

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By way of apology regarding my misplacement of the term "spirit" in my first post, I would recommend Isaac Asimov's notes on the clown's opening remarks in MV, Act 3, scene 5. That the above is a recommendation of caution when referring to scripture is supported by Lorenzo's comment later in the scene: "I think the best grace of wit will shortly turn into silence, and discourse grow commendable in none only but parrots."
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Re: Context and THE MERCHANT OF VENICE 5 years 9 months ago #5177

  • roberto gigliucci
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only few words about melancholy: the paradigmatic Bosola's melancholy is an exquisite villain's melancholy, very interesting for me (I worked about it), so it is nearer to Shylock's temper than Antonio's one, do you agree? two kinds of melancholy we can find in MOV, the jew's one and the gentleman's one; the second is characterized just by the impossibility to say "because", to give a motivation to it. Best regards from Rome.
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