The Merchant of Venice: Staging Gentile, Staging Jew The Merchant of Venice (written 15941596) as “Oppositional Play” The Merchant of Venice has evoked perhaps more radically opposed interpretations than any other of Shakespeare’s plays. – Most of the disagreements have centered on character. Portia: • the epitome of the romantic heroine, virtually a saint? (see Thomas Sully, Portia and Shylock and Henry Woods, Portia, Exhibited 1888)? or a "spoiled darling" who thinks money can buy anything? • a brilliant and just lawyer? or a conniving and "callous barrister” with a trump card up her sleeve? Jessica: • an ideal portrait of a Christian convert? or a "dishonest and disloyal father-hating minx"? Antonio: • a model of Christian gentleness? or an underground Shylock? Bassanio: • a romanticized lover? or a heartless money-grubber? Shylock: • savage monster? or martyred gentleman? Some quotes from critics about Shylock: • He manifests “malevolence . . . diabolically inhuman” • Shakespeare “clearly detested” him • He is a “scapegoat,” an instinctively generous man who reminds his tormentors of the wickedness which they possess in greater measure than he. What is YOUR attitude to Shylock? A) B) C) D) Real hero of the play More sinned against than sinning More sinning than sinned against Unredeemable villain of the play What do you think was the attitude to Shylock in Shakespeare’s time? a) Diabolical monster, malevolent villain, and murderous dog-Jew b) Noble, dignified Jew, the tragic hero not the tragic villain of the play c) Comic witty character, funny through his ironic commentary upon the Christians d) Comic type character (Jew = Miser = Usurer) • One Conventional Reading (A): Shylock as diabolical monster, malevolent villain, and murderous dog-Jew. See title-page to 1600 Quarto: “the extreme cruelty of Shylock the Jew” – Shakespeare capitalizing on the trial and execution of Dr. Roderigo Lopez, a physician of Portuguese Jewish descent executed in 1594 on charges of spying and plotting to poison the queen. – Christopher Marlowe's The Jew of Malta, probably written in 1589-90, was performed twice within ten days of Lopez's execution, in June, 1594. Charles Macklin's Shylock (mid-18th c) • Played Shylock as a terrifying villain with no redeeming features. • Macklin's "badge of all our tribe" was: – a red beard, conventional for stage Jews – a "Jewish gaberdine“ – unfashionably wide black trousers – a red skullcap • Claimed (incorrectly) historical accuracy: Alexander Pope: “This is the Jew / That Shakespeare drew” Charles Macklin's Shylock (mid-18th c) Some Images of Macklin as the diabolically murderous Jew: • Johan Zoffany (1733-1810), Covent Garden, 1767/68. Somerset Maugham Collection of Theatrical Paintings. • Charles Macklin as Shylock, 1741. Hiram Stead Collection of the New York Public Library. Here with his trademark attire as well as his trademark tools: knife and scales. • Charles Macklin as Shylock Another Conventional Reading (B): Shylock is the noble, dignified Jew, the tragic hero not the tragic villain of the play • Shakespeare is condemning Christians who indulge in racial prejudice and persecution. • see Morris Carnovsky's 1957 Merchant of Venice (American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, CT). – Shylock proposed the bond truly as a “merry sport” to try and be friends with the Christians – Only when robbed of his daughter and his goods does he turn into, in Carnovsky’s words, “the sad, sick, lonely wolf” Patrick Stewart on what he describes as the typically three different stagings of Shylock, which he performs in an Actor taping of Shylock’s speech, pp. 18-19; 1,3,103-126. • Stewart acts out, in order, versions of Shylock as “B” (dignified, noble Jew), as “A” (monstrous, dog-Jew), and—Stewart’s preference—as “C” (diabolical but “funny,” in being ironic, Jew) One More Reading (D): Shylock as the Comic Type Character • Again, we must turn to Shakespeare's comic tradition, in particular: New Comedy and Festival Comedy • Considered in this tradition, Shakespeare's Shylock cannot be an "authentic" Jew. • He is a stock figure, derived from the continent and from native holiday celebrations. Shylock is a stock or type figure from comedy in three ways 1) Shylock is a type for the restraining father that we've seen in New Comedy • • p. 30; 2.4.1-9 p. 34; 2.5.28-38 2) Shylock is also the stock killjoy figure who typically stands in the way of festive holiday celebrations and must be exorcised. • see Malvolio, in Twelfth Night • links to Puritanism (see Macklin's Shylock) • links to miserliness • Jews = Misers • see Shylock's reaction to news that there might be masquing afoot (p. 34; 2.5.2838) 3) Shylock is also a stock or type character for the usurer opposed to festive spending • Jews = misers = usurers • This last “type” or stock feature of Shylock makes him a character in Shakespeare’s day who would have been both funny (as a stock character) and evil Why is usury evil? • In the New Testament, Christ drives the money-changers from the Temple. • In Aristotle's The Politics (Book I), he opposes the idea of money breeding (as unnatural). – See Shylock's reference to the story of Laban and Jacob to justify interest (p. 17; 1.3.75-87) • Legally, usury is a crime in England (though it is also acknowledged as necessary for capitalism to work; interest beyond 10% specifically cited as criminal) The Problem: • Inherent in both the Renaissance laws and Aristotelian position on usury is a contradiction: – usury is illegal and ungodly but interest up to 10 percent is (sort of) okay – usury is unnatural but it is necessary to (and thus natural to?) advanced commerce, where credit and interest go hand-in-hand. • In typing the Jew as usurer, just such contradiction in Gentile thinking is repressed. Summary • Shylock the monstrous villain and Shylock the dignified, persecuted minority need to have added to them not only Patrick Stewart's Shylock the ironist ("Hath a dog money? Is it possible / A cur can lend three thousand ducats?") but also Shylock the comic stock type (Jew/miser/usurer). • All these versions of Shylock come together in Shakespeare's imaging of the playworld's "civilization" and its "discontents."