Merchant of Venice, Act 5: Morning

PORTIA: It is almost morning, And yet I am sure you are not satisfied Of these events at full. Let us go in, And charge us there upon interr’gatories, And we will answer all things faithfully.

All’s well that ends well.

The last scene is pure banter and represents a happy ending. In the last words of Portia, she discusses how “it’s almost morning.” In How to Read Literature like A Professor, it states: “Here’s what I think: weather is never just weather. It’s never just rain. And that goes for snow, sun, warmth, cold, and probably sleet.” Similarly, I believe that the morning represents the death of the journey or night, and the beginning of something pleasant and new as morning. Jessica and Lorenzo, Nerissa and Gratiano, and Portia and Bassiano are all together and in love and the story is completed with a future as bright as the morning sun.

Source: Merchant of Venice, Act 5

The Villain We All Sympathize With: Shylock

PORTIA What mercy can you render him, Antonio?

GRATIANO A halter gratis, nothing else, for God’s sake.

Ouch. 

The antagonist of this play is Shylock, a man whose largest crime is being a Jew amongst the Christians. However, in today’s world, his character is more of a reflection of antisemitism during the Shakespearean era than a villain. In fact, most readers would sympathize with this victim of his circumstances. After all, he was only acting under the law when he wanted a pound of flesh. However, there is speculation on whether this play is actually antisemitic  as commentary on antisemitism in the culture. Earlier in Act III, Shylock rages on about Antonio had “disgraced” and “hindered” him “half a million,” “laughed at [his] losses, mocked at [his] gains, scorned [his] nation” and such. And the only reason for this behavior is because Shylock is a Jew. Shylock continues to rant about the similarities of Jews and all humans: “Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?” This humanizing Jews rant is out of place with how the play portrays Shylock as an evil Jew. As a person in the 21st century, I couldn’t but help feel remorse for Shylock when he was forced by the court to convert to Christianity. I wonder if that remorse came from having a historical understanding of the treatment of the Jews or because Shakespeare intended for you to care about Shylock.

You see me, Lord Bassanio, where I stand.

PORTIA:You see me, Lord Bassanio, where I stand
Such as I am. Though for myself alone
I would not be ambitious in my wish
To wish myself much better, yet for you
I would be trebled twenty times myself—
A thousand times more fair, ten thousand times more rich—
That only to stand high in your account
I might in virtue, beauties, livings, friends
Exceed account. But the full sum of me
Is sum of something which, to term in gross,
Is an unlessoned girl, unschooled, unpracticèd.
Just as I had mentioned in a previous post, Portia is more than just the rich and beautiful girl she appears to be. When Bassanio choses the correct box, it shows that he is willing to see past the glamour of gold and silver and like Portia for her. He doesn’t “deserve” Portia or only “want what other men want,” but he is wants to “give and risk all he has” for Portia.  As she explains, Bassanio “sees” her and “where she stands.” Portia is truly just “an unlessoned girl, unschooled, unpracticèd,” and Bassanio is willing to give everything he as to her nonetheless. Likewise, Portia sees the real Bassanio and is willing to see past his poverty and debt. I’m curious to know why she is willing to look past Bassanio’s lack of money and yet not Morocco’s dark complexion. Likewise, the theme of seeing people for more than they are occurs in the relationship of Jessica and Lorenzo. Although Jessica is Jewish and Lorenzo is a Christian, they are able to see past their religious differences unlike Shylock. Lorenzo still loves her, saying “Even such a husband/ Hast thou of me as she is for a wife,” meaning he promises to be a great husband to her. In Act III, both couples look past socioeconomics and religion for an authentic connection.

Source: Merchant of Venice, Act 3

All that Glitters is not Gold

“All that glitters is not gold—

You’ve often heard that said.
Many men have sold their souls
Just to view my shiny surface.
But gilded tombs contain worms.
If you’d been as wise as you were bold,
With an old man’s mature judgment,
You wouldn’t have had to read this scroll.
So goodbye—you lost your chance.”
In Act II, Morocco chooses the gold box: “He who chooses me will get what many men want.” In his eyes, all men want Portia, an absolutely beautiful and highly wealthy girl. However, the scroll in this box states that “all that glitters is not gold.” Similarly, this can still be applied to Portia. When Morocco first shows himself to Portia, he asks her to see past his dark complexion and know that he loves her deeply. She replies: “In terms of choice I am not solely led

By nice direction of a maiden’s eyes,” meaning that appearance isn’t the only thing she values. However, what she says changes once Morocco loses the game. In fact, the moment Morocco leaves, she exclaims “A gentle riddance.—Draw the curtains, go.—Let all of his complexion choose me so,” meaning that she doesn’t want anyone with his “complexion” to come by either. Portia embodies something that glitters and appears simple and nice, but at heart is not gold and openminded.

Source: Merchant of Venice, Act 2

Merchant of Venice, Act 1 and Nine

NERISSA First, there is the Neapolitan prince.

PORTIA Ay, that’s a colt indeed, for he doth nothing but talk of his horse, and he makes it a great appropriation to his own good parts that he can shoe him himself. I am much afeard my lady his mother played false with a smith.

NERISSA Then there is the County Palatine..

In this scene, Portia is harshly describing all of her potential suitors with small descriptions. Portia wants a man who doesn’t just “talks about is his horse” or “doesn’t nothing but frown” (Act I Scene 2). Whenever she describes each man, she discusses how they carry themselves in (frowning, drunk, etc.) and how their behavior is like to fun stories. It’s interesting to see Portia simplify these men and grade them based on what she values. Similarly, Guido simplifies the women in his life to potential muses for his future film. He doesn’t actually care to know what Carla, Luisa, and Claudia are like as people which is why they leave him. As Claudia best put it: “Guido, I am not a spirit. I am real. I have a life you know nothing about. And have never shown the slightest interest in.” Both Portia and Guido portray selfishness and close mindedness through how they see their suitors.

Source: Merchant of Venice, Act 1

Nine: Mothers, Virgins, Sluts, and Bitches

Claudia: Guido, I am not a spirit. I am real. I have a life you know nothing about. And have never shown the slightest interest in. I shouldn’t have come here.

Throughout Nine, Guido simplifies the women in his life to simple muses and inspirations for his art. The name of the musical isn’t even called nine women, but simply Nine. While reading this play, Guido’s shallow interactions with the women in his life reminds me of a quote from the 2013 film Syrup: “Men categorize women in one of four ways: Mothers, virgins, sluts and bitches.”

Mothers:  Guido’s mother

Mothers are often seen as just gentle, caring people who love their children. In this musical, Guido’s actual mother is used to show his childhood and a near death visitation. Nothing about Guido’s mother is actually known other than her relationship and interaction with him. She breaks the mold of being caring when she informs him that his film is horrible and he is going to die.

Virgins: Luisa

Although the play never specifies that Luisa was a virgin, the virgin trope is a pure woman with kind intentions who is not blood related to the male. In this case, Luisa is his wife and stands by his side despite the fact that she knows he has affairs. However, she breaks the mold of being modest and softspoken when she decides to get a divorce.

Sluts: Carla Albanese, Claudia Nardi

A slut is a derogatory word for a women who likes to have sex. During this musical, Guido revisits his past affairs. However, Claudia boldly refuses to be in his film and be his “muse” again. As the quote on the top states, “I am real.” She doesn’t even accept it when Guido says he loves her. She breaks the mold of being always available for lust and love when she denies him.

Bitches: La Fleur

This category is the hardest to fulfill since the antagonist of the play is Guido himself as he struggles to write a musical. Although La Fleur has no gender, the character can be played by a woman. In so, a woman is making him achieve his deadline and follow the contract that he has to produce a film.

I’m curious if this musical would even pass the Bechdel test as every piece of dialogue is focused so much on Guido. Through Guido’s interactions with these women, they are all simply ideas in his mind. Only when they stand up against Guido do they gain dynamic.

Source: Nine

Read and Respond to an Academic Article

Glaspell continues to mix fact, rumor, and commentary, with a superfluity of rousing language and imagery, opening her next report with the reminder that Mrs. Hossack has been arrested for the death of her husband, “on charge of having beaten out his brains with an axe,” that the accused woman has employed the legal services of Mr. Henderson and State Senator Berry, that when arrested she showed no emotion and absolutely declined to make any statement concerning her guilt or innocence, and that while her family supported her “the public sentiment is overwhelming against her.”

In this article, Linda Ben-Zvi compares Trifles to a real life murder that Glaspell had covered as a reporter. The case involved a women who had murdered her husband and “beaten out his brains with an axe.” According to Ben-Zvi, when Glaspell had written about the case, Mrs. Hossack had shown “no emotion and absolutely declined to make any statement concerning her guilt or innocence.” After reading this, I decided to go back to reading Trifles and examine Mrs. Wright’s behavior. When I read the story the first time, my real concern was about Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale as they have the most dialogue. However, Mrs. Wright showed the same lack of emotions as Mrs. Hossack that indicated innocence or guilt. As the Mr. Hale describes his interaction with her: “Can’t I see John?’ ‘No’, she says, kind o’ dull like. ‘Ain’t he home?’ says I. ‘Yes’, says she, ‘he’s home’. ‘Then why can’t I see him?’ I asked her, out of patience. ”Cause he’s dead’, says she. ‘Dead?’ says I. She just nodded her head, not getting a bit excited, but rockin’ back and forth.” At first glance, Mrs. Hale’s reaction to me seemed to be out of shock. However, after examining the real court case, Mrs. Hale’s reaction seems nerve-wreckingly calm and aware. As Glaspell described the real murderer woman, “Though past 50 years of age, she is tall and powerful and looks like she would be dangerous if aroused to a point of hatred.” Through seeing Glaspell’s perspective of the actual murderer, it is easier to see that the story cannot be simplified to Mrs. Wright is mentally insane or a victim of circumstance as both women knew exactly what they were doing.

Source: Read and Respond to an Academic Article

The Wise Fool we all wish we had.

“Constance: In both plays, the tragic characters, particularly Romeo and Othello, have abundant opportunity to save themselves. The fact that they do not save themselves, tends to characterize them as the unwitting victims of a disastrous practical joke. Insofar as these plays may be said to be fatalistic at all, any grains of authentic tragedy must be seen to reside in the heroines, Desdemona and Juliet.”

In this play, Constance has a theory that that a Wise Fool would have turned the tragedies into comedies. Both plays, Romeo and Juliet and Othello, have plots that are dependent on simple mistakes that create drastic and horrendous results. However, if there was a wise fool to fix the miscommunication that occurs, the plays would have ended happily. Although this theory is disproven in the entire play, Constance’s desire to have a Wise Fool is a larger statement that problems are easier to solve in hindsight. In addition, the comedy in these plays occurs because the characters do not “save themselves.” However, Constance, herself, does not save herself and lets herself become trampled on when her boss does not propose to her and fires her. Had Constance have a wise fool in her own life, perhaps she too would not be living a tragedy.

Source: Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)

Academic Article: Trifles

“Mrs. Peters gather household goods for Minnie Wright, the two characters begin to reconstruct the accused woman’s life. They do so through several means: memories of her, memories of their own lives (similar to hers in many ways), and speculation about her feelings and responses to the conditions of her life.”

In this article, Suzy Clarkson Holstein makes the distinction between the actions of the men and women in the play Trifles. While the men investigate the house as if it’s a crime scene and interview the witnesses, the women enter the house as if it is a home. In addition, the women examine the life and memories of Minnie Wright, as if to see if they can empathize with her actions. This article solidifies my blog post earlier about how the women are not examining whether or not if what Minnie did was moral, but rather how relatable are her actions and how understandable were her emotions when living in her environment. The women of the play value motive, while the men of the play only care about justice.

Source: Academic Article

The Art of Allusion

In Chapters 8-10, Foster dives deeper into different popular pieces of texts that are often alluded to in literature. These pieces are stories from the Grimm Brothers, Greek and world mythology, and weather. When you hear about a trail of breadcrumbs, you think of the innocent children of Hansel and Gretel. When you hear about a war over beauty, you think of Helen of Troy. When you see dark weather, you think of dark foreshadowing. Although allusions use other pieces of texts, it isn’t used to plagiarize or steal the story of other writing. As Foster writes:

“Rather, we’re trying to make use of details or patterns, portions of some prior story (or, once you really start thinking like a professor, “prior text,” since everything is a text) to add depth and texture to your story, to bring out a theme, to lend irony to a statement, to play with readers’ deeply ingrained knowledge of fairy tales.“

A writer is not able to talk to each reader and compare the characters or events to the experiences of the reader. Therefore, they use other common books so that the reader can make the connection between the emotions experienced in both environments. A good allusion does not depend on the reader understanding the reference in order to understand the story. Instead, the allusion adds depth to the text so that the reader can subconsciously remember the emotions and motives of known story and apply it to the current text. In the story of Everyman, Jesus and Saint Charity are alluded to so that the reader knows this story follows the Christian mythology. The reader can then apply Christian morals and beliefs to the story so that they can see how the message of the play coincides to the church’s teachings.

Source: Foster (8-10)