Saturday, October 22, 2011

The entree of Shylock (but no pork)

Is Shylock such an antagonist?
The next part of my fragmented analysis of The Merchant of Venice was going to be about the use and importance of oaths in this play.  However, there's not as much there as I originally thought, so I'll just finish up with interesting depictions of Shylock in the BBC version, so I'll focus a little more on the video presentation.  Sadly my technical skills haven't leveled up enough to embed the clip of the video I wanted to put here, but at the end of Act III Scene I, Shylock speaks with his Jewish friend Tubal about the turn of events concerning his lost daughter and money.  The main action that caught my attention was at the end of the dialogue, where Shylock rends his coat.  Having a bit of Old Testament knowledge, and doing a little standard Google/Wikipedia searching, I was reminded that rending one's clothes is a normal act in Jewish culture upon hearing the death of a loved one.  Shylock's daughter Jessica basically eloped with a Christian, which according to this adaptation is her death to him, probably in a spiritual way along with the fact that the religious differences between Jews and Christians weren't easily or even realistically settled.

Shylock rending his garment
The depiction of Shylock throughout this version is at times up to interpretation, but other times he's just the stereotypical stingy Jew.  I haven't seen the full Al Pacino 2004 rendition of The Merchant of Venice, but the Shylock he shows is one with more passion, which I believe could be seen as a response to past Antisemitism by those before us.  The BBC version isn't terribly old, but Shylock is depicted as an obvious antagonist in parts.  For example, in contrast to the Al Pacino clip of Shylock's monologue, here Salanio and Salarino just laugh at him the entire time until he gets to his words about revenge.  They really don't take him seriously at all, and I'm not going to lie, I was very much indignant the entire time I watched it.  While I'm not a follower of Judaism, the entire time they were laughing at him, I wanted to tell them to shut up and let him finish what he was saying.  I don't know if the producer of that version was even thinking about who they might be hating on when filming that scene.  I could be just taking more offense than he meant, but I had a hard time picking the Christian side after seeing him get picked on.

It makes me wonder, why did Shakespeare choose to write this play?  Jews weren't allowed in England during his lifetime, so why this?  Was he going for exotic factor, like he does in other plays?  Or was he bringing up religious issues of his day?

The Merchant

Red theme--symbol of blood. Also
relates to Jesus Christ's sacrifice.
I originally planned on covering one of these subjects a day this week, but obviously I didn't.  Good thing I agree with the use of mercy, something I lightly covered recently. I mentioned at the end of said post that I saw there being a need for a third party when it comes to matters of justice and mercy. I originally wasn't really planning on looking for Christianity within Shakespeare's plays, but I feel like I just can't help it.  I think it may be largely influenced by the church-owned Christian university I'm currently attending, but I admit, I look for themes of religion in a lot of things I study, including foreign languages and culture.  At any rate, to prevent deliberating myself to death, I'll jump now to what I've noticed while reading and watching the BBC production of the The Merchant of Venice.  Here's something from Antonio that will show you what relation I noticed (in Act V):

Antonio. I once did lend my body for his wealth; 
Which, but for him that had your husband's ring,
Had quite miscarried: I dare be bound again, 
My soul upon the forfeit, that your lord 
Will never more break faith advisedly.

Antonio's actions for Bassanio show his selfless love for his BFF.  Christian relation?  Jesus lent his body to the cause of obtaining heavenly wealth for those whom he sees as his best friends--those who were most loyal to him during their mortal lives.  Antonio was ready to give a pound of his flesh to keep his bargain for his friend's temporal happiness.  Again likewise, Jesus gave his flesh for the souls of his followers' eternal happiness.  The comparison isn't flawless (but what comparisons are?), but I find that Antonio can be seen as a mortal foil to Jesus in this play.

Last thing before I forget; justice and mercy.  I think of Portia's role as the lawyer in the trial of Antonio vs Shylock as a foil to Jesus' merciful role in saving souls.  I admit I don't feel it's as developed of a parallel as Antonio's foilship (note: not a real word), but that there's a loose connection there, as without her, Antonio wouldn't have received the mercy all his friends feel he deserved.  What do you think?

Next, I'll bring up a few themes common to this play and religion.  But that will be a different post.

Monday, October 17, 2011


I mentioned about four different things I was thinking strongly about last Friday by the end of my reading and viewing of The Merchant of Venice. I probably could do a large dealio where I analyze all the elements that caught my attention and had enough substance to say something about.  However, I share but one for now.  This play has a very strong theme of mercy versus justice, especially in the fourth act when Antonio and Shylock's bond is brought to court.  Here are some of the moments focusing on the law and justice:

Act 3, Scene 3 Shylock:
"I'll have my bond; speak not against my bond: I have sworn an oath that I will have my bond."
 Act 4, Scene 1 (All from Shylock):
"I am not bound to please thee with my answers." 
"What judgment shall I dread, doing
Were in six parts and every part a ducat,
I would not draw them; I would have my bond." 
"The pound of flesh, which I demand of him,
Is dearly bought; 'tis mine and I will have it.
If you deny me, fie upon your law!
There is no force in the decrees of Venice.
I stand for judgment: answer; shall I have it?"
There are many more, but I think these few are enough to show Shylock's insistence on having his due from the law.  He's 'bound' and determined to see the law fulfilled, which his opponent Christians must still follow, despite the fact they're at odds.  Following are some comments from some of the Christians focusing on mercy:

Act 4, Scene 1
Duke: "How shalt thou hope for mercy, rendering none?" 
Portia: "The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea;
Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence 'gainst the merchant there."
Being LDS, I can't help but think of the portion in the Book of Mormon that addresses this subject, in Alma 42.  The most cohesive connection between these two that I find is where both mercy and justice can be satisfied, but a third party is necessary, and this is where the lines between mercy/justice and my next topic cross. Segue!

Friday, October 14, 2011

I have an oath!

I've finished watching and reading the play, and I have a LOT to say about this. I know, I know, I wasn't very excited to do something as general as looking at religion, but as I finished reading and watching The Merchant of Venice, I saw so many things that could relate to Christianity on levels more than just skin deep Jew vs Christian.  I could easily go into more detail about the antagonized Shylock in the play, and whether I should like him or hate him (there is ample evidence for both), but my friend already did that, so I'll spare myself the double dose.  Some things I've looked at though are mercy versus justice, foils to Jesus, oaths, and salvation in general.  Again, more to come soon!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Snack of Shylock

So I admit I haven't finished reading or watching The Merchant of Venice yet, but I have listened to this version of Shylock's monologue several times, as I find Al Pacino puts the necessary passion and humanity into Shylock's words that should be there. For a little background info, Shylock (a Jew) lender has a deal with his borrower Antonio (a Christian), which Antonio signed and agreed to.  The deal is a pound of Antonio's flesh for payment if he cannot pay back the borrowed amount.  When disaster strikes and Antonio cannot pay in the allotted time what he owes Shylock, the Jew is confronted by a few of Antonio's friends, trying to dissuade him from following through with his harsh agreement.  For a little more religiously toned background info, Antonio and Shylock dislike each other because of their religions.  I've read some thoughts that Shakespeare was anti-Semitic, and other thoughts that say that he was actually trying to show the humanity in "heathens."   My personal take is that of tolerance of all people, despite religion.  Also, I noticed that Shylock is seeking to have Antonio (the Christian) keep his word legally, but also ideologically.  Read the last 6 lines below!
Shylock: To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else, 
it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and 
hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses, 
mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my 
bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine 
enemies; and what's his reason? I am a Jew. Hath 
not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, 
dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with 
the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject 
to the same diseases, healed by the same means, 
warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as 
a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? 
if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison 
us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not 
revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will 
resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, 
what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian 
wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by 
Christian example? Why, revenge. The villany you 
teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I 
will better the instruction.

Friday, October 7, 2011

You wanna play rough? Say hello to my little friend.

I admit I've only seen a little bit of
Scarface, but I can't help but think
of Tony Montana as Shylock.
I'm trying to decide what I can and want to learn from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.  After doing a little research, I realize I could go the somewhat popular route of checking out the Shakespearean take on Christian versus Jewish dealings.  I must confess, have an originality complex, so I really don't want to look at this play in a way that is commonly done.  However, I have recently been noticing religious themes in my recent reading of Shakespeare's plays, so for now I'm planning on going against what I reeeeeally want to do.
Portia's inheritance in Belmont?

To be kind of redundant, I do hope I end up going somewhere different with this for the sake of my originality's sanity.  There's plenty of love going around, especially in Portia's direction, so I'll definitely be looking at that some.  Since there are some 'good' spite filled dealings between men of different religious views, I'll be analyzing that as well.  Who knows, you might hear from me more often.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Some summary thoughts

It's official, I've decided that reading summaries before reading Shakespeare's plays is no longer an option.  For one, it is a necessity to better enjoy the the overall story.  Example: once upon a time I started to read Shakespeare's The Tempest without looking first at a summary.  The end.  Seriously though, I didn't get past the first act and now remember approximately nothing about it, except the title.  When I do read The Tempest in a few weeks, there will definitely be a time for summary reading before diving in.

Focus is another thing that improves if a summary is properly utilized before reading a play.  Since I wasn't preoccupied with remembering who is who while reading the beginning act of Love's Labour's Lost, I was able to pay more attention to things like rhyme (although that's really hard to miss anyhow) and the nuances of different characters' personalities.

Now for a more subjective reason: it is a necessity to better enjoy the the overall story.  I know I don't speak for everyone on this, but knowing the end of a story usually doesn't hinder me from wanting to read it.  In fact, in many cases it causes me a greater desire to see the process, or the story's development.

The math's not perfect, but a simple sum might be:
summary + text = greater reading comprehension