IT'S ALL A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE

You don’t believe what I just said in the Introduction, do you?

Almost nobody does. I have spent years debating with those who would not—or could not—see what I was talking about. The problem lies in the different perspectives from which they and I view the play: they from the perspective of literature; me from the perspective of Shakespeare’s time and place as reflected in the words he chose to use.
Look at the image to the right. What do you see?

When I was first shown this image, I saw an Old Woman. The moderator of what-ever-seminar-it-was said that there were two women, one old and one young. I looked at that image intently, and could not for the life of me see the Young Woman. Even when the moderator used a pointer to outline the two images, I still could not see the Young Woman. After I spent a considerable period of time looking hard to find her, she finally appeared.
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For our purposes, it is important to understand that I was not
invested in seeing the Old Woman; I really wanted to see the Young Woman but had a difficult time in doing so. Most people—especially Shakespearean scholars—are already heavily invested in the prevailing understanding of The Merchant of Venice.

If you have been used to thinking of The Merchant of Venice as a romantic fairy tale with an ugly side order of anti-Semitism, you will have a difficult time changing your perspective. I know. I had a difficult time myself seeing what Shakespeare was doing because of what my Survey of British Literature professor said about the play, and because of what the Norton editor said in the Introduction. Because I am a retired trial attorney, I could tell that something was "off" about the Trial Scene. Shakespeare was Up to Something.

I have tried to show others what I'm showing you. Even some Jews, whom I thought would be relieved to discover that Shylock was not a Jew.It was like talking to a wall. Almost everyone was invested in what they had previously learned about the play.

Of course Shylock is a Jew! Just look at how many times he’s referred to as a Jew in the play. Oh yes, he is sometimes called a devil, but that’s just the way people talked back then. Launcelot was only joking when he said Certainly the Jew is the very devil incarnation. Solanio was only joking when he said upon Shylock’s entrance, Let me say Amen betimes, least the devil cross/ my prayer, for here he comes in the likeness of a Jew. Jessica did not mean it literally when she said hers and Shylock’s house was hell and that Launcelot was a merry devil. Shakespeare makes a big deal about the Ring in Act 5 because, because, because something or other; probably something to do with Antonio’s love for Bassanio. Anyway, lighten up; it's a comedy for Christ's sake.


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