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

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

M of V #2 - Too Much Respect Upon the World


As Merchant’s first scene proceeds, we see Shakespeare begin to peer more closely into its obvious theme of commerce. In response to Salero’s accusation that Antonio is sad because his fortunes are tied to the fate of his ships, Antonio responds:

Ant: “My ventures are not in one bottom trusted,
Nor to one place; nor is my whole estate
Upon the fortune of this present year.
Therefore my merchandise makes me not sad.”

Fair enough. Antonio presents Shakespeare’s idea of a wise merchant. He diversifies! And he keeps some of his wealth in cash (presumably gold or silver, of course, which the Bard will also look at in this play). As will become obvious in time, Shakespeare is seeking to draw a line between this virtuous form of commerce – commerce in goods – and Shylock’s venal, low-brow and of course Jewish trafficking in usury – commerce in money, which we today call banking.

Shakespeare would take one look at today’s modern world and say, “How Jewish!” before turning away in disgust at his lost caste system. I can only hope, however, that if he stayed to take a further look, and saw the explosion of humanism permitted by our modern freedoms, including our modern financial freedom, he would reconsider. For humanity is what Shakespeare was and is all about; it’s the reason I feel no choice but to absorb the anti-Semitic insult of Merchant and stick with him. The reason I’m blogging the play.

Ah, the play. Salero and Antonio are interrupted by Gratiano (not Rocky), who alike upbraids Antonio for being excessively somber:

Grat: “You look not well, Signior, Antonio,
You have too much respect upon the world.
They lose it that do buy it with much care.”

Ant: “I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano –
A stage where every man must play a part,
And mine a sad one.”

Gratiano invites Antonio to dinner, to cheer him up, and then leaves him with his friend Bassanio. And at last the plot thickens:

Bass: “”Tis not unknown to you, Antonio,
How much I have disabled mine estate
By something showing a more swelling port
Than my faint means would grant continuance.
………………………..To you, Antonio,
I owe the most, in money and in love…”

Antonio has been loaning his friend money, and the sole purpose of these loans was to allow Bassanio to show himself richer than he was. Bassanio then tells Antonio he has a plan for repayment, and Antonio, sight unseen, promises to bankroll it:

Ant: “My purse, my person, my extremest means
Lie all unlocked to your occasions.”

Can you spell e-n-a-b-l-e-r? (And please tune in tomorrow to see exactly what Bassanio is asking Antonio to enable).

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