Context and The Merchant of VeniceAnother approach to interpreting THE MERCHANT OF VENICE is to regard the play as the third part of a trio including A MIDSMMER NIGHT'S DREAM and ROMEO AND...

Context and The Merchant of Venice

Another approach to interpreting THE MERCHANT OF VENICE is to regard the play as the third part of a trio including A MIDSMMER NIGHT'S DREAM and ROMEO AND JULIET.  One might pause here to note that scholars tell us that Shakespeare freely combined, adapted and altered his sources. So too is it in the film version of the stage musical WEST SIDE STORY, "a contemporary Romeo and Juliet story." Maria survives to close the story in place of the prince. Chino kills Tony and his defense attorney might argue that he was defending his girlfriend from the lusty and murderous Tony. As I have partially documented elsewhere, MV is from beginning to end linked to ROM. Shylock's vexing aside that begins "How like a fawning publican he looks"(1.3) is one example. Romeo's "Here's much to do with hate, but more with love," resonates with Shylock's "I hate.....but more...." The "ancient grudge" Shylock bears echos the third line of the prologue to ROM. The grudge in MV is due, in part, to yet another love triangle: Antonio, Shylock and Leah. In WEST SIDE STORY, Tony welcomes death after hearing a false report of Maria's demise. Professor Leggatt, refering to Antonio, wrote: "In the trial his courageous acceptance of death shades into an actual yearning for it." Antonio's insistence that Shylock convert mirrors Shakespeare's England.

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accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I don't think we can necessarily state that to understand this play we have to read it in the context of Romeo and Juliet. Of course, given the common authorship of both plays, we are going to find some similarities which might help us to understand both plays better, but no more than we would find with any other two Shakespeare plays.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I'm afraid I'm not quite clear on what you are hoping for here.  Do you want us to respond to this quote?  Please post a bit more information so we know what you want.

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muddy-mettled | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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reply to accessteacher (cont.)  For his TV show and book, Michael Wood wrote something like "Shakespeare's eye was not quite on the ball when he wrote MV, there are too many unanswered questions."  In his biographical book, Peter Ackroyd wrote of Shylock:  He is "beyond interpretation" and "simply a magnificent and extravagant stage representation."  "How shall we find the concord of this discord"(MND).  One approach is to compare MV and ROM.

muddy-mettled's profile pic

muddy-mettled | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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I don't think we can necessarily state that to understand this play we have to read it in the context of Romeo and Juliet. Of course, given the common authorship of both plays, we are going to find some similarities which might help us to understand both plays better, but no more than we would find with any other two Shakespeare plays.

accessteacher.  after further consideration, we don't have to read any Shakespeare play at all.  The student guides are tailored to the practical needs of todays students.  I think that way back in the day when I read MND, Julius Caesar and Mac in high school I should have read Cliff's Notes first.  I would also recomend Mark Anderson's book SHAKESPESRE BY ANOTHER NAME, a biographical book about the Earl of Oxford.  The book is well written(the author is a professional journalist) and we find interesting notes about the life of an aristocract in the time of Shakespeare, though I came away even more convinced that the authorship question is no more than a pleasant fantasy.  In ROM, however, we find Romeo saying to the friar:  "in what vile part of this anatomy doth my name lodge? tell me that I may sack the hateful mansion."(I think that's close for I too hate to pick up the damn plays).  In MV4.1 we find "nearest the heart, those are the very words," "more than a lodged hate" and "why dost thou whet thy knife so earnestly?"  Shylock and Romeo each hold a dagger or knife in hand.  I don't recall  offhand, does Hamlet run a dagger or sword through Claudius?

muddy-mettled's profile pic

muddy-mettled | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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I don't think we can necessarily state that to understand this play we have to read it in the context of Romeo and Juliet. Of course, given the common authorship of both plays, we are going to find some similarities which might help us to understand both plays better, but no more than we would find with any other two Shakespeare plays.

Reply to accessteacher:  Thanks for your note.  I 'm certain that I did not state that it is impossible to understand MV without comparison to ROM, rather that such comparison leads one to at least agree with scholar J. Dover Wilson that it is "interesting to compare the two" as they were probably written at about the same time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

further comparison supports the arguement that it was Shakespeare's intention that we do so. The SPARKNOTES student guide is one example.  In their summary of MV3.3 we find:  "Solanio attempts  to comfort Antonio  by suggesting that the  duke will never allow such a ridiculous contract to stand, but Antonio is not convinced."  Solanio does not  state  that the  contract  is  "ridiculous," he simply states what every character but Shylock and Antonio believe.  The correspondecies to ROM that identify Romeo's passion with Antonio and Shylock helps explain their behavior, or rather suggests the most prominent motivations.  In the court scene, Portia must deal with the fact that Antonio endorses Shylock's suit.  As you suggest, we might go to HAMLET and the speech to the players and the "mirror up to nature" thing.  Therefore, as homosexuality is uncommon in nature it is likely that Antonio is heterosexual and his  desires are or were more for Leah than Bassanio.

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muddy-mettled | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Context within the play is also key.  In the court scene, Portia /Balthasar seems to agree with Shylock and Antonio regarding interpretation of the bond.  She then says:  "Tarry a little; there is something else./  This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood;/  The words expressly are "a pound of flesh."  The language echos 3.1 and 2.2: Shylock's "My own flesh and blood to rebel!" and Gobbo's "Her name is Margery, indeed.  I'll be sworn, if thou be Launcelot, thou art mine own flesh and blood."  Margery is Gobbo's wife.  The above, then, are indications of two of Shylock's motivations:  The elopement of Jessica and grief(There seems to be general agreement that Leah was Shylock's wife and has passed away). 

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muddy-mettled | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Comments on recent Q&A: Regarding to what degree Shylock is a sympathetic character in Act 1: Perhaps the most sympathetic character in Act 1 is Salerio(some editors prefer "Salarino"). All others are primarily functioning to catch dramatic interest. In the first scene we learn that Bassanio already owes money to Antonio and asks for yet another loan. In the second scene we learn that Portia prefers Bassanio. Therefore, Shylock is a sympathetic character because he agrees to arrange the new loan and charges no interest. Perhaps Bassanio asks Shylock for a loan because Antonio's credit is stretched to the limit or perhaps Antonio spurns and spits at all moneylenders or perhaps other potential lenders are sympathetic towards Shylock due to Antonio's offensive behavior. Regarding the trial or court scene, I imagine the Duke could be speaking to Antonio privately while others are still entering the room and the formal proceedings begin with his speech to Shylock.

muddy-mettled's profile pic

muddy-mettled | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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I'm afraid I'm not quite clear on what you are hoping for here.  Do you want us to respond to this quote?  Please post a bit more information so we know what you want.

My main theme is that it was Shakespeare's intention that any discussion of MV include ROM. For example, Professor Gross began his book SHYLOCK IS SHAKESPEARE(following his preface) by imagining asking Shylock "What could you have been thinking?"  If we compare MV and ROM, Shyock might have challenged Antonio to a duel.  He may have considered lots of things.  Romeo says to his man:  " The time and my intents are savage-wild, / More fierce and more inexorable far / Than empty tigers or the roaring sea"(ROM5.3). In the court scene in MV we find corresponding language linking Romeo's passion and Shylock's.

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