Thursday, May 17, 2007

RE5: Merchant of Venice - Food For Thought

In response to Ernst's reaction to Jessica and the ring, I realize I've already said my piece on this topic, specifically that I believe Radford expects us to understand that the monkey dealer never had the ring. I'm reading Othello right now, so I'm deep in the discrepancy between the perceived and the actual. We've just finished discussing the handkerchief as "ocular proof" of Desdemona's infidelity, a huge moment because despite the fact that Othello can see Cassio holding Desdemona's handkerchief, it is "proof" of no such thing. Everything Othello has been led to believe is a lie.

There are two such moments of perceived truth that we can question in Merchant of Venice – Salarino and Solanio's report of Shylock's equal agony over the loss of daughter and ducats as unbiased account and Tubal's suggestion that the ring he saw traded for the monkey was in fact the one Shylock assumes it to be.

One of them showed me a ring that he had of your daughter for a monkey.
… It was my turquoise! (3.1.117-120)

Really? What a singluarly perceptive conclusion. Based on what? We cannot conclude that it was, for example, the only ring in the casket. Shylock mentions "other precious, precious jewels" taken by Jessica. So Radford's take on all this depicts a man turned toward vengeance by slights amplified by assumptions and hearsay. A lot like Othello, I might add. (And a further example of Radford's Merchant of Venice working in tragic mode.)

It may be the romantic in me, but I was moved by the image of Jessica with the ring. Perhaps I read too much into it, but I saw it as her last connection to her family, an image of loneliness and tragedy given what has happened. After Shylock's line about not giving it "for a wilderness of monkeys," Jessica's having the ring conveys, for me, some of that emotional weight.


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