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Scholarly Analysis Of Shakespeare’S

“The play-any play, but especially a strong one-is the sum of all its meanings, all its intentions, conscious and unconscious, including some that the author could have never intended”-Marjorie Garber (Garber 285); Response to Marjorie Garber’s Scholarly Analysis of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

Marjorie Garber’s book Shakespeare After All is a collection of essays which analyze the numerous plays of William Shakespeare. Ranging from The Two Gentlemen of Verona to The Two Noble Kinsmen, Garber uses a combination of historical context, textual analysis, and her own unique insight to offer the reader some new interpretations and ways to look at some of Shakespeare’s most famous plays. When it comes to The Merchant of Venice, Garber helps the reader look at the play in newer and deeper ways. In the essay she touches upon the plays “‘anxieties’ regarding religion and religious prejudice, about the play’s depiction of Jews and Christians, and also about the place of sexuality and gender” (Garber 260). I agree with the author’s analysis that the play is a play of opposites. As we discussed in class, several elements present in the play are as different as night and day. Garber highlights these opposites as being “Christian/Jew; Venice/Belmont; male/female”. According to her, “Shakespeare takes advantage of these apparent differences in order to put in question the whole issue of difference. How are others, and otherness, related to oneself” (Garber 261). The author takes the chart we made in

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class and expands upon it in greater detail, and adds some historical context as to why Shakespeare was so fixated with the idea of difference. His fasciation with male vs. female could be attributed to the fact that Elizabethan actors were exclusively male, so all female characters were portrayed by men. Shakespeare also lived post Henry VIII’s declaration to make himself the head of the Church of England, which suddenly gave him more religious power than the Pope (Garber 261-2). Throughout the play, characters transform into something which they are not. Portia and Nerissa dress up as men to save Antonio, and Shylock is forced to convert to Christianity. The essay uses the above historical examples to explain to the reader the dynamics of the time Shakespeare lived in, and the social commentary The Merchant of Venice provided to his Elizabethan audience.

In the essay, Garber also forces her audience to look at the play in more meaningful ways than they normally would. For instance she draws a parallel between Portia and the actual historical figure, Queen Elizabeth that readers unfamiliar with the play’s historical context might not necessarily pick up on. According to the essay, both women are courted by suitors from all over the globe, come from rich, powerful families, and will “inevitably lose or cede power, rather than gain it, if she marries” (Garber 265). I had never put the connection together before this, but it makes a lot of sense. If Queen Elizabeth married, she would have lost her power to a king, the same way Bassanio becomes the master of Portia’s house once they tie the knot. The essay also sheds light on the similarities between Antonio and Portia which the untrained reader might gloss over at first glance. According to Garber, both characters are rich, but lack a sense of purpose until Bassanio comes along. Bassanio needs Antonio to acquire a loan for him, while Portia

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needs him to pick the led casket so she will not be forced to marry a man she does not truly love. We touched upon this in class, but Garber expands upon Antonio’s homosexual love for Bassanio. She explains that this could be attributed to the fact that Shakespeare himself wrote love sonnets to other men, and high profile male homosexual relationships were commonplace at the time, such as the love affair between Francis Bacon and King James. Even thought Garber is hardy the first critic or reader to note the homosexual undertones, she provides the historical context behind the relationship.

I would say that Garber’s arguments are persuasive because she provides direct quotes and historical background to any point she presents. For example, when she addresses the anti-Semitism which is present within the play, she explains that it is more likely than not Shakespeare had never even met a Jew in his entire life, so the play is not necessarily anti-Semitic. He based Shylock on the basis of Jewish people he had never met or had direct experience with. It is likely that he based his understandings of Jewish people on public figures such as accused conspirator, Rodrigo Lopez. Just as Professor Vos said in class, Garber also asserts that The Merchant of Venice is indeed “Shylock’s play”. However, Garber claims that Shylock’s iconic status is probably not “intentional” on Shakespeare’s part. The strong interest in Shylock’s character can be attributed to Henry Irving’s tragic and sympathetic interpretation of his storyline. One could also associate Shylock’s storyline as being the one which makes the audience most uncomfortable in a post-Holocaust world. All of Garber’s arguments prove to be persuasive because she uses a combination of historical information and textual evidence to support her claims. One quote which emerge with

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more importance is, “Which is the merchant here, and which is the Jew?” (4.1.169). According to Garber, when Jews were depicted in Elizabethan theatre, they wore stereotypical giant noses, red wigs, and gaberdines. When one knows this background information, it seems odd that Portia would not be able to distinguish Shylock as being the Jew during the trial scene. The author suggests that this quote is meant to show the audience that Antonio and Shylock might have more in common than previously thought. This quote also begs the question, who exactly is the titular character? Besides both being money lenders, Garber draws other parallels between the two men, saying, “They are of the same generation, both are lonely, both are excluded at the close” (Garber 282). Before reading this explanation, I did not think this quote to be of any great significance, but for an Elizabethan audience, it would have been quite shocking indeed. This essay taught me that when one analyzes Shakespeare, merely reading the text is not sufficient enough evidence to make a claim. One must also take into account the historical context and biblical references present in not only this play, but all of Shakespeare’s works. Garber describes a particular “sheep” biblical illusion which can be attributed to Antonio being the “sacrificial lamb, a figure of Christ” in the trial scene and Bassanio’s story being the same as “the story of Jason and the quest for the Golden Fleece, associated with the bold adventuring of Bassanio” (Garber 280). A modern reader unfamiliar with the Bible may not put these connections together, but an Elizabethan audience would more likely than not have been able to put two and two together and understand the deeper meanings behind these illusions.

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Gaber’s chapter is a good model of literary criticism because she backs up all her points with textual evidence and historical background. This chapter does not feel like it is just Garber’s opinion, but a well researched piece of writing. Even though some of the information such as

wordplay is something one can learn in a typical Shakespeare course, the author’s unique voice, historical background, and biblical knowledge make this chapter well worth the read for any Shakespeare fan.ebruary 2017

“The play-any play, but especially a strong one-is the sum of all its meanings, all its intentions, conscious and unconscious, including some that the author could have never intended”-Marjorie Garber (Garber 285); Response to Marjorie Garber’s Scholarly Analysis of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

Marjorie Garber’s book Shakespeare After All is a collection of essays which analyze the numerous plays of William Shakespeare. Ranging from The Two Gentlemen of Verona to The Two Noble Kinsmen, Garber uses a combination of historical context, textual analysis, and her own unique insight to offer the reader some new interpretations and ways to look at some of Shakespeare’s most famous plays. When it comes to The Merchant of Venice, Garber helps the reader look at the play in newer and deeper ways. In the essay she touches upon the plays “‘anxieties’ regarding religion and religious prejudice, about the play’s depiction of Jews and Christians, and also about the place of sexuality and gender” (Garber 260). I agree with the author’s analysis that the play is a play of opposites. As we discussed in class, several elements present in the play are as different as night and day. Garber highlights these opposites as being “Christian/Jew; Venice/Belmont; male/female”. According to her, “Shakespeare takes advantage of these apparent differences in order to put in question the whole issue of difference. How are others, and otherness, related to oneself” (Garber 261). The author takes the chart we made in

Kelly 2

class and expands upon it in greater detail, and adds some historical context as to why Shakespeare was so fixated with the idea of difference. His fasciation with male vs. female could be attributed to the fact that Elizabethan actors were exclusively male, so all female characters were portrayed by men. Shakespeare also lived post Henry VIII’s declaration to make himself the head of the Church of England, which suddenly gave him more religious power than the Pope (Garber 261-2). Throughout the play, characters transform into something which they are not. Portia and Nerissa dress up as men to save Antonio, and Shylock is forced to convert to Christianity. The essay uses the above historical examples to explain to the reader the dynamics of the time Shakespeare lived in, and the social commentary The Merchant of Venice provided to his Elizabethan audience.

In the essay, Garber also forces her audience to look at the play in more meaningful ways than they normally would. For instance she draws a parallel between Portia and the actual historical figure, Queen Elizabeth that readers unfamiliar with the play’s historical context might not necessarily pick up on. According to the essay, both women are courted by suitors from all over the globe, come from rich, powerful families, and will “inevitably lose or cede power, rather than gain it, if she marries” (Garber 265). I had never put the connection together before this, but it makes a lot of sense. If Queen Elizabeth married, she would have lost her power to a king, the same way Bassanio becomes the master of Portia’s house once they tie the knot. The essay also sheds light on the similarities between Antonio and Portia which the untrained reader might gloss over at first glance. According to Garber, both characters are rich, but lack a sense of purpose until Bassanio comes along. Bassanio needs Antonio to acquire a loan for him, while Portia

Kelly 3

needs him to pick the led casket so she will not be forced to marry a man she does not truly love. We touched upon this in class, but Garber expands upon Antonio’s homosexual love for Bassanio. She explains that this could be attributed to the fact that Shakespeare himself wrote love sonnets to other men, and high profile male homosexual relationships were commonplace at the time, such as the love affair between Francis Bacon and King James. Even thought Garber is hardy the first critic or reader to note the homosexual undertones, she provides the historical context behind the relationship.

I would say that Garber’s arguments are persuasive because she provides direct quotes and historical background to any point she presents. For example, when she addresses the anti-Semitism which is present within the play, she explains that it is more likely than not Shakespeare had never even met a Jew in his entire life, so the play is not necessarily anti-Semitic. He based Shylock on the basis of Jewish people he had never met or had direct experience with. It is likely that he based his understandings of Jewish people on public figures such as accused conspirator, Rodrigo Lopez. Just as Professor Vos said in class, Garber also asserts that The Merchant of Venice is indeed “Shylock’s play”. However, Garber claims that Shylock’s iconic status is probably not “intentional” on Shakespeare’s part. The strong interest in Shylock’s character can be attributed to Henry Irving’s tragic and sympathetic interpretation of his storyline. One could also associate Shylock’s storyline as being the one which makes the audience most uncomfortable in a post-Holocaust world. All of Garber’s arguments prove to be persuasive because she uses a combination of historical information and textual evidence to support her claims. One quote which emerge with

Kelly 4

more importance is, “Which is the merchant here, and which is the Jew?” (4.1.169). According to Garber, when Jews were depicted in Elizabethan theatre, they wore stereotypical giant noses, red wigs, and gaberdines. When one knows this background information, it seems odd that Portia would not be able to distinguish Shylock as being the Jew during the trial scene. The author suggests that this quote is meant to show the audience that Antonio and Shylock might have more in common than previously thought. This quote also begs the question, who exactly is the titular character? Besides both being money lenders, Garber draws other parallels between the two men, saying, “They are of the same generation, both are lonely, both are excluded at the close” (Garber 282). Before reading this explanation, I did not think this quote to be of any great significance, but for an Elizabethan audience, it would have been quite shocking indeed. This essay taught me that when one analyzes Shakespeare, merely reading the text is not sufficient enough evidence to make a claim. One must also take into account the historical context and biblical references present in not only this play, but all of Shakespeare’s works. Garber describes a particular “sheep” biblical illusion which can be attributed to Antonio being the “sacrificial lamb, a figure of Christ” in the trial scene and Bassanio’s story being the same as “the story of Jason and the quest for the Golden Fleece, associated with the bold adventuring of Bassanio” (Garber 280). A modern reader unfamiliar with the Bible may not put these connections together, but an Elizabethan audience would more likely than not have been able to put two and two together and understand the deeper meanings behind these illusions.

Kelly 5

Gaber’s chapter is a good model of literary criticism because she backs up all her points with textual evidence and historical background. This chapter does not feel like it is just Garber’s opinion, but a well researched piece of writing. Even though some of the information such as

wordplay is something one can learn in a typical Shakespeare course, the author’s unique voice, historical background, and biblical knowledge make this chapter well worth the read for any Shakespeare fan.