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Thread: A Tedious Brief Look at Shakespeare's THE MERCHANT OF VENICE

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    stanley2
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    A Tedious Brief Look at Shakespeare's THE MERCHANT OF VENICE

    "Here's much to do with hate, but more with love," says young Romeo Montague. Scholar J. Dover Wilson wrote that THE MERCHANT OF VENICE was most likely written at about the same time as ROMEO AND JULIET and that it is interesting to compare the two plays. Professor Garber noted the more commonly encountered thought that "Shakespeare wrote A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM in the same years that he wrote ROMEO AND JULIET, and the two plays have a great deal in common." As Professor Kristeva and others have noted, ROMEO, as it has come down to us, was most likely written soon after the loss of the author's son in 1596 and is therefore, in part, a kind of elegy. Professor Greenblatt titled his chapter on MV, "Laughter at the Scaffold." Among other things, I hope to show that what makes people laugh is one matter that Shakespeare was interested in when he wrote THE MERCHANT.
    When picking up the work of Shakespeare one might find oneself concentrating on a few favorites. Other plays and poems become interesting for a time and are then returned to the shelf. MV is one of those other plays, it seems. This may be so as there is little mention in the critical literature of the linguistic connections to ROMEO AND JULIET throughout MV.
    In the court scene, Shylock says "You'll ask me why I rather choose to have / A weight of carrion flesh than to receive / Three thousand ducats: I'll not answer that"(MV4.1.41-2 or so). Much like the reason "why" Antonio is sad in the first scene of the play, we find various comments in the play and the criticism. "What sadness lengthens Romeo's hours?"(ROM1.1.161) is found in the first scene of ROMEO and we find in the last scene the Prince's "Go hence to have more talk of these sad things." The phrase "ancient grudge" is unique to these two plays, found nowhere else in Shakespeare's work(see THE HARVARD CONCORDANCE).
    The word "ring" ends MV. In the last scene of ROM, we find Romeo telling his man, "Why I descend into this bed of death / Is partly to behold my lady's face, / But chiefly to take thence from her dead finger / A precious ring"(ROM5.3.38-41 or so). Many have noted Shylock's "It was my turquoise, I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor"(MV3.1) In due course, one might note Juliet's "Give this ring to my true knight"(ROM3.2.146).
    Romeo also tells his man that "The time and my intents are savage-wild, / More fierce and more inexorable far / Than empty tigers or the roaring sea." In the court scene in MV we find Antonio's "You may as well go stand upon the beach / And bid the main flood bate his usual height, / Or even as well use question with the wolf"(MV4.1.71-3 or so) and Gratiano's "O, be thou damned, inexecrable dog!"(MV4.1.130 or so). Some editors have replaced "inexecrable" with "inexorable."
    The obscurity of "inexecrable" might recall Bassanio's "Gratiano speaks an infinite deal of nothing"(MV1.1.117 or so). With the other passages quoted above, one might recall passages from A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM: "Airy nothing" and "This passion, and the death of a dear friend, would go near to make a man look sad."
    Returning again to Shylock's first speech in the court scene, we find: "More than a lodged hate and a certain loathing / I bear Antonio, That I follow thus / A losing suit against him." In Juliet's "Gallop apace" speech, we find "And learn me how to lose a winning match"(ROM3.2.12 or so). Bassanio asks Shylock, "Why dost thou whet thy knife so earnestly?"(MV4.1.123 or so). Romeo and Juliet each threaten violence with a knife or dagger: "O, tell me, friar, tell me, / In what vile part of this anatomy / Doth my name lodge?"(ROM3.3.107-9 or so) and "Give me some present counsel, or, behold, / 'Twixt my extremes and me this bloody knife / Shall play the umpire"(ROM4.1.62-4 or so).
    Shylock's most noted speech begins with the words "To bait fish withal"(MV3.1.45). This echoes Gratiano's "But fish not with this melancholy bait"(MV1.1.104) and all the way back to the last line of the first conversation in ROMEO: "'Tis well thou art not fish: if thou hadst, thou hadst been poor John"(ROM1.1.29-30). This, together with the first line from Samson, "Gregory, 'o my word, we'll not carry coals," is an allusion to the first line of the GOSPEL OF JOHN: "In the beginning was the Word." Imagery from Romeo and Juliet, "So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows"(ROM 1.4.166), "Whiter than new snow upon a raven's back"(3.2.19) and "Dove-feathered raven"(3.2.78), corresponds to the black and white picture representing Chinese dualistic philosophy. The structure of the imagery indicates that Samson's "'Tis all one"(ROM1.1.20) is at once an allusion to DEUTERONOMY 6:4 and GENESIS 1:27.
    Juliet's "O serpent heart, hid with a flow'ring face!" speech(ROM3.2), can be interesting to return to again. The term "fiend" is found there twice. Lancelet the clown is tempted by "The fiend"(MV2.2), which is opposed by his "conscience." The clown's speech is then interesting again when compared to the Friar's introductory soliloquy(ROM2.2). Antonio's "O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!"(MV1.3.101) also echoes Juliet's speech. One might quote another line from MND: "A very gentle beast, and of a good conscience"(MND5.1.229 or so).
    Juliet's speech is followed by the Nurse's disparagement of men generally and Juliet's rebuke. The criticism of The MERCHANT can seem like this exchange, and so too reading the play or a attending a performance. "Ay, by my troth, the case may be amended"(ROM4.4.133), says one of the musicians in ROMEO. Given the proceedings of the court scene in THE MERCHANT, this passage too can be useful when studying MV. "The play is the sum of all its meanings," wrote Professor Garber. Shakespeare clearly invites the reader to recall his other work .
    One might then return to historian Michael Wood's suggestion that we are left with too many unanswered questions at the end of the play. As we have seen, we might consider other opinions, search other texts and so forth "and so grow on to a point"(MND1.2.9 or so). This is plain enough as one finds various passages that indicate the author also had in mind the conclusion of THE ODYSSEY(see Fitzgerald's translation). Or, given the fairy story element, Antonio is sad simply because Leah is "in heaven" (MV4.1.232 or so) or "with God"(ROM1.3.20 or so), as Juliet's "wolvish-ravening lamb!"(ROM3.2.77) is echoed in the court scene: Antonio rates himself a "tainted wether of the flock"(4.1.116) and Gratiano tells Shylock "thy desires / Are wolvish, bloody, starved and ravenous"(4.1.139-140). Shylock's "What, wouldst thou have a serpent sting thee twice?"(4.1.70), corresponds to the first line of Juliet's speech(ROM3.2.75) which in turn might recall the Nurse's line regarding a rival suitor of Juliet: "Nay, he's a flower, in faith, a very flower"(ROM1.3.70 or so).
    Last edited by stanley2; 02-10-2014 at 01:31 PM. Reason: Typos

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    stanley2
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    Is anyone there? Has anyone read MV after age 15?

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    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    I have, Stanley, but I am a little at a loss about what is your aim by comparing speeches of both plays.
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

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    stanley2
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    Thanks for your reply. In part, I'm following a comment from scholar J. Dover Wilson, and those of others as well. Scholars do indeed compare one play to another and, noting similarities, try to estimate the dates of composition. Still, there is a special relation in MV to ROM.

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    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Well, I donīt know it this is part of a paper, and if you are used to work with literature that way. I would say the dullness you refer to results from the method of approach, not from the plays themselves. Maybe, if you are at liberty to do it, you might choose another kind of approach, a theme common to both plays, for example.
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

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    stanley2
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    Or perhaps what is needed is to bring in other plays, not just the three. Scholars try to make sense of obscurities in one play by looking at others. Perhaps it is good to start with the epilogue to the TEMPEST where his use of the word "project" may refer to everything he had written to that point.

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    stanley2
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    Or perhaps I should note more of the context regarding the allusion to GENESIS 1.27: Before Samson says "'T is all one," he says "therefore I will push Montague's men from the wall and thrust his maids to the wall." Gregory replies: "The quarrel is between our masters and us their men."

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    stanley2
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    That is, did I overlook something? I'm fairly sure that I have not noted every passage in MV that corresponds to something in ROM and MND. I failed to complete Romeo's "O tell me" lines: "Tell me, that I may sack / The hateful mansion." The main point is that the author identifies, in part, the passions of Shylock and Antonio with those of Romeo. Therefore, while Antonio may be homosexual, it is more likely that he was a rival suitor of Leah(like the county Paris character), and while Shylock may be prepared to kill Antonio, it is more likely that he expects to die for threatening Antonio.

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    stanley2
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    More likely still, Shylock expects the Duke to tell Antonio to stop spitting at people. Regarding the conflict between Antonio and Shylock, such sonnets as 42 and 145 are also interesting. But then, it seems that people find Portia and the goofy and interesting minor characters are more interesting than the bewildering Antonio and Shylock.

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