A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

M of V #1 - I Know not Why I am so Sad


The Merchant of Venice begins with a lament by Antonio, the play’s Merchant.
Antonio attempts to explain to his friend Salero an undiagnosable sadness from which he is suffering:

Ant: “In sooth, I know not why I am so sad.
It wearies me, you say it wearies you
But how I caught it, found it, or came by it,
What stuff ‘tis made of, whereof it is born,
I am to learn….”

Salero answers:

Sal: “Your mind is tossing on the ocean,
There where your argosies with portly sail,
Like signors and rich burghers on the flood,
Or as it were the pageants of the sea,
Do overpeer the petty traffickers
That curtsy to them…”

Sadness is in fact a theme in the play. According to Salero, Antonio is sad because his happiness, serenity and peace of mind are held hostage to the health of his investment portfolio, something many middle class, or “middle class” Moderns can relate to, except that Antonio’s investment is in shipping, and in his era months or years passed before word from the local port would inform the merchant that he was now rich, or continued silence would confirm to him and his creditors that he was ruined - hence the concept of one’s ship coming in. (Salero in fact is wrong both about the cause of Antonio’s sadness, and as to Antonio’s fortunes being hostage to his shipping interests).

In any case, the situation allows Shakespeare to allow Salero to imagine himself as a shipping merchant:

Sal: “My wind cooling my broth
Would blow me to an ague when I thought
What harm a wind too great might do at sea.
I should not see the sandy hourglass run
But I should think of shallows and of flats…
….Should I go to church
And see the holy edifice of stone
And not bethink me straight of dangerous rocks
Which, touching but my gentle vessel’s side,
Would scatter all her spices on the stream,
Enrobe the roaring waters with my silks.
And, in a word, but even now worth this,
And now worth nothing?...”

Such lovely passages as these, laced even more richly through this play than many of Shakespeare’s others, break the heart of a Jewish Shakespeare-lover like myself, since,as we shall soon see, glowering o’er the entire text is the Jew-hatred that is nestled at its core. It is not masochism, though, but a sheer desire to stare the Bard’s ugly error in the face, that drives me to blog the Merchant in its entirety, and welcome along for the ride.

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