Monday, January 30, 2012
Finally, Antonio declares that the world is "a stage where every man must play a part,/ And mine a sad one" (1.3, 78-79). He feels he cannot change his sadness because he simply plays a sad character in the grand scheme of things. This can be a dangerous view because it leads to learned helplessness. Graziano touches on this concept when he alludes to men who enjoy dwelling on their burdens; these men utilize their pessimism to convince others of their wisdom and experience, which is detrimental to the human experience. This part of the text reminds me of a quote by Stephen Colbert: “Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us.” Having read this quote helped me understand Graziano’s point, regardless of whether or not Antonio was responsive to it.
After his friends leave, Bassanio asks Antonio for a favor. Bassanio is in love with Portia, and the only way he can compete for this heiress is if he takes out loans. He asks Antonio to be his guarantor since he has such bad credit. This is the first time we see Antonio perk up and speak definitively about anything. Antonio scolds Bassanio for even remotely questioning his loyalty as a friend and declares: "My purse, my person, my extremist means/ Lie all unlocked to your occasions" (1.1, 137-138). This is a surrender of Antonio’s entire being to his friend’s pursuits. Throughout Act I, Antonio is particularly attentive to Bassanio. He finds the motivation and passion for Bassiano, yet not for himself. Critics suggest that Antonio may be in love with Bassanio, and if this is the case, such a hopeless love could partially explain Antonio’s sadness. With this in mind, Antonio’s depressing comment about the world as a stage and people as fixed characters could be in reference to the roles of husbands and wives in society. The institution of marriage was unmovable at the time and was heavily intertwined with Christianity, which plays a huge role in Antonio’s life.
The only other time Antonio expresses strong feeling is when he encounters Shylock. He is unexpectedly cruel towards him because he is a Jew. Antonio, earlier depicted as a thoughtful, loyal friend is now irrational and off-putting. When Shylock claims Antonio is only being kind because he needs money, he alludes to all the nasty things that Antonio has done and said. Antonio simply replies, “I am as like to call thee so again,/ To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too” (1.3, 125-126). Antonio steps up and passionately defends his distasteful actions. He continues with, “lend it rather to thine enemy,/ Who if he break, thou mayst with better face/ Exact the penalty” (1.3, 130-132). Antonio heightens their dissonance and derives pleasure (for once) in doing so. Antonio’s religious intolerance is a sign of close-mindedness. From a psychological perspective, this is often associated with depression. In addition to a hopeless love, his intolerance of others could explain his sadness.
1.2, lines 1-19. (I cut off the passage at line 19 for this post, before Portia’s predicament and suitors are fully discussed.)
The Merchant of Venice is best known for its arguable antagonist, Shylock. In the shadows of the romantic babbling of the elite Antonio and his friends partake in the opening scene, Shylock works to make reality of their imaginings. Two scenes later, Shylock states, “Three thousand ducats. Well.” (1. 3. 1), establishing his identity through the loan request of Bassanio and Antonio. In the greater conversation between Jews and Christians, the perjury of the Jews through a long existing history of European religious reformations created a public character for society to use as a scapegoat. In establishing business interest with loans, Jews were demonized in their “unchristian” character in seeking economic benefits through the misfortunes of others.
The tension and explicate hate Shylock and Antonio have for each other seem to villainies both men versus creating a “good vs. evil” troupe. In detesting Antonio, Shylock says, “Cursed be my tribe if I forgive him” (I. 3. 46-47), alluding to the Christian ideal of redemption and how it’s beyond his Old testament vicinity. In contrast to the first scene, where Antonio friends try to soothe him with compassion and reasoning, this scene depicts a less empathetic side of Antonio. “I am like to call thee so again, to spit on thee again, to spurn thee too” (1. 3. 125-126), are not the words of your loving neighbor. In developing the character of these two men, it is impossible to separate their religious prejudices. In out right calling Shylock’s usage of the ram allegory as the working of the devil (1.3. 94-96), it seems exemplar knowledge of the Old Testament works against Shylock’s humanization.
In their compromise to give a loan, free of interest, under the promise that if not paid back in time will cost Bassanio one pound of his flesh reads as a violent and dated agreement. Like the hammurabi code and laws of the Old World, Shylocks “kindness” operates according to an economic exchange based off of mortality. Already we can see within the first scene that these men live in a material world distant from such realities, where their focus is on their emotions than on their physicalities. Living in the illusion of ports and transitions, Anotino lives in an international intersection of worldly goods, which may contribute to his stated unknown grievance. The introduction of such a fatal contract positions Shylock with a certain knowingness outside of Antonio and his men.
Of course under the humanizing lens of the 21st century, we cannot help but attempt to pull Shylock away from his villainous characterture and shift him towards a sociological light, a man who acts according to circumstance. I’m excited to see how his character develops in accord to the stage.
And not only does Bassanio not talk to him about his grief but Antonio moves the conversation over to Bassanio and his positive, secret, sexy conquest for a lady. His interest only wains when Bassanio questions Antonio's ability to help him. Antonio then goes into depth to show how much he will do to help Bassanio, even though much of the debt Bassanio has it to Antonio in the first place. And Antonio will vouch for Bassanio with his wealth that he doesn't currently have. It seems to me Shakespeare is trying to foreshadow the type of loving unhealthy relationship these two have. Antonio seems to love Bassanio while Bassanio seems to think of Antonio as a dear friend and not a love interest.
Then they go to Shylock where Antonio makes sure the loan of money needed is insured. But while they are talking about the terms, Shylock and Antonio start up their long going feud with each other, and it seems like they are going to sign as enemies until Shylock makes a proposition. He says they should do the loan on friendly terms with no interest, but if the money isn't given at the right time then Antonio will have to give Shylock "an equal pound of [Antonio's] fair flesh to be cut off and taken in what part of your body pleaseth [Shylock]." (1131) This to me seems quite phallic and lending it self to be seemed like he will cut off his penis. The whole conversation is about bravado and acting like the stronger, smarter, and more intimidating man. And again Shakespeare ends this Act with the thought of Antonio's penis literally being on the line for Bassanio. And with Antonio brushing it off and saying all his ships will return, and he's calm in the face of his friends fear. He is the rock for his friend to lean on in hard times. I'm interested to see how Antonio will try and win over Bassanio as Bassanio tries to woo Portia.
Shylock, the Jew, is the man that is introduced as the character who will be playing the role of the villain. All he is concerned about is money, what Antonio is worth (apparently 3,000 ducats is worth that much ~ though I am not quite sure how much that would amount to in currency that I am familiar with), what his own money is worth to him, what Bassanio is worth and so on. He is depicted as this cruel character that has no heart and could not possibly understand that Bassanio is just trying to obtain the love of his life and his best friend is attempting to help him in such dire straits. The wolf is revealed in such a way, but our hearts are opened for just a moment when Shylock is concerned about taking the offer. Again, we are aware that Shylock is of the Jewish faith and there doesn’t seem to be a great depiction of such people. Antonio even admits that he has spit on him, he has called him a dog/cut-throat/misbeliever and he goes so far to say that he would do this again when given the chance. Shylock at this point has done nothing but attempt to help this man out. As a reader I began to question the depiction of this villain, mostly can we consider Shylock to be one? There are readers who believe that this man has been given the role of the villain because of what he worships, not perhaps who he is as a person. This is where I myself am torn.
Offers of kindness are given out to Shylock. Bassanio offers “If it please you to dine with us” (27, 1.3), Shylock outright refuses to partake in any courteous adventures with these two men. Now is he being the cruel, evil self or someone who has been tortured for his entire life because he must eat certain foods and there are those who cannot seem to understand his faith. Not moments later there is an aside of Shylock who explains his hatred for Antonio because he is a Christian who gives money away without interest. Is the main source of hatred his religion or perhaps is it the business plan Antonio has is, to say with all cliché intended, sinking. This constant unsure nature of the character Shylock is unearthed in, what seemed to me is, the most unexpected twist in a business plan.
If Antonio goes back on his word with this loan, the price is a slab of his own skin. Now we are starting to see the true evil nature of this one man. A slab of the skin is the price to pay if Antonio does not pay back the debt to Shylock, not taking the threat seriously Antonio is sure that his boats will return soon enough and he will pay. He goes so far to think that “the Hebrew will turn Christian; he grows kind” (174, 1.3), and Shylock is doing this out of the good of his heart. I fear the worse for Antonio due to the fact that this poor Jewish man who we grow some compassion for is about to write out a blood bond for him. Stories of abuse and torture cannot derail the reader from seeing the true evil nature that is lurking under the surface. I can only assume that this deal is foreshadowing something terrible for Antonio and perhaps Bassanio as well.
The two men clearly do not get along with each other, let alone respect each other. The terms of the bet also speak volumes about the mens' characters. Shylock states "If you repay me not on such a day,/ In such a place, such sum or sums as are,/ Expressed in the condition let the forfeit/ be nominated for an equal pound/ of your fair flesh to be cut off and taken/ in what part of your body pleaseth me..." (1.3.142-147). The fact that Shylock would love to cut a pound of flesh off of Antonio if he is not re-payed shows just how strongly he dislikes Antonio. A pound of flesh is not valuable in any way, nor will he gain any benefit from it. This shows just how much hatred Shylock has for Antonio.
Antonio also expresses a lot about himself through this agreement with Shylock. The fact that he is signing the bond alone ("Your single bond..." 1.3. 141) shows that he feels he needs no help to repay Shylock, even though the one benefiting from this agreement isn't himself, it is Bassanio. He also shows that he may be a little too overconfident by agreeing that he will let Shylock cut off a pound of flesh from what ever part of his body that Shylock wants to.Antonio is clearly so determined to pay Shylock back that is almost seems like it is a competition between the two. Even Bassanio, who is the person benefiting from this agreement, tells Antonio "You shall not seal to such a bond for me./ I'll rather dwell in my necessity" (1.3.150-151). Bassanio and Antonio close the scene by saying "Bassanio: I like not fair terms and a villain's mind./ Antonio: Come on. In this there can be no dismay./ My ships come home a month before the day." (1.3. 175-177). I can't help but feel like something bad will happen and Antonio will fail to repay Shylock. The fact that Antonio's last lines in act 1 are assuring Bassanio that he will re-pay Shylock forces me to think that Shakespeare is trying to foreshadow that something bad will happen. I haven't read the rest of the play, so I could be completely wrong in this feeling, but it just seems like it is too confident of Antonio to agree to this. It just seems like such a ridiculous agreement for anyone to make. The terms of the bond show many things about their characters.