Thursday, May 17, 2007

RE2: Merchant of Venice - Food For Thought

Well, I can't top that, but…

Portia has returned to Belmont and says:

"Antonio, you are welcome,
And I have better news in store for you
Than you expect. Unseal this letter soon;
There you shall find three of your argosies
Are richly come to harbor suddenly.
You shall not know by what strange accident
I chanced upon this letter" (V.i.273-279).

Shakespeare seldom just throws away a line, so what do you make of this "you shall not know by what strange accident I chanced upon this letter"? I hope to come back to this in the promised "Portia and Power," but if I can't let me refer you to the moment before she follows Bassanio to Venice, when she sends her servant Balthazar to Padua:

"Take this same letter,
And use thou all th'endeavor of a man
To speed to Padua. See thou render this
Into my cousin's hands, Doctor Bellario,
And look what notes and garments he doth give thee,
Bring them, I pray thee, with imagin'd speed
Unto the traject, to the common ferry
Which trades to Venice" (III.iv 47-54).

What notes??? Did I mention Shakespeare seldom throws away a line? Meanwhile, Randall's exegesis of Lorenzo's manna is challenging, but I'm thinking in another direction, recalling conversations with my wonderful colleague, Dick Henze. At the trial, Portia/"Balthazar" first asks "Which is the merchant here? And which the Jew?" Lorenzo's characterization of himself – manna to starving people – Randall notes is in terms of classic Jewish culture. Jessica said that she was converted through her husband to Christianity, but Lorenzo is the one who has been converted, and this is in keeping with Randall's description of the last scene in the Radford film, of Jessica wearing Leah's ring.


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