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The Trial Scene in Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice”

In Arts & Letters, Books, British Literature, Fiction, History, Humanities, Jurisprudence, Justice, Law, Law-and-Literature, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Shakespeare, Theatre, Western Civilization on August 31, 2016 at 6:45 am

Allen 2

The following excerpt is adapted from my essay “A Time for Bonding: Commerce, Love, and Law in The Merchant of Venice,” which may be downloaded at this link.

Act IV, Scene I of William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice involves the climactic court scene in which Shylock and Antonio confront one another, in person, before Portia, who will determine Antonio’s fate.

At this point Portia has already revealed to Nerissa, her lady-in-waiting, her plan to “wear my dagger with the braver grace / And speak between the change of man and boy / With a reed voice, and turn two mincing steps / Into a manly stride, and speak of frays / Like a fine bragging youth.” She and Nerissa will cross-dress, in other words, and once “accoutred like young men” will act as though Portia is a doctor of laws, or a law clerk, administering justice and adjudicating disputes in the Duke’s Venetian courtroom.

Bassanio attempts to settle the case on Antonio’s behalf by tendering Shylock double and then triple the amount of the original loan, but Shylock unmercifully insists on exacting a pound of Antonio’s flesh. Portia appears to support Shylock, saying, “[T]here is no power in Venice / Can alter a decree established: ‘Twill be recorded for a precedent, / And many an error by the same example / Will rush into the state: it cannot be.” Although she says that Shylock’s “suit” is “[o]f a strange nature,” she submits that “in such rule that the Venetian law / Cannot impugn you as you do proceed.”

Praising Portia as a “Daniel come to judgment,” Shylock demands that a judgment be entered against Antonio immediately: “When [the bond] is paid according to the tenour. / It doth appear you are a worthy judge; / You know the law, your exposition / Hath been most sound: I charge you by the law, / Whereof you are a well-deserving pillar, / Proceed to judgment: by my soul I swear / There is no power in the tongue of man / To alter me: I stay here on my bond.” Antonio himself conveys a preference for swift judgment: “Make no more offers, use no farther means, / But with all brief and plain conveniency / Let me have judgment and the Jew his will.”

Portia readies the others for the judgment by telling Antonio to “prepare your bosom for [Shylock’s] knife.” That the bond calls for the pound of flesh to be exacted “nearest [Antonio’s] heart” draws attention to the metaphorical implications of the judgment and the plural meaning of the bond: it is not just the contractual relationship but the potential for friendship that is about to be carved apart.

Just before the judgment is to be perfected, Bassanio and Antonio profess their love for one another. Portia then explains to Shylock—turning his literalism against him—that the judgment calls for the removal of a pound of flesh but “no jot of blood.” If any blood should be drawn, then Shylock must forfeit his lands and goods to Venice. There being no way to cut a pound of flesh without drawing blood, Shylock finds himself in a precarious situation. Portia tells him that

The law hath yet another hold on you.

It is enacted in the laws of Venice,

If it be proved against an alien

That by direct or indirect attempts

He seek the life of any citizen,

The party ‘gainst the which he doth contrive

Shall seize one half his goods; the other half

Comes to the privy coffer of the state;

And the offender’s life lies in the mercy

Of the duke only, ‘gainst all other voice.

In which predicament, I say, though stand’st;

For it appears, by manifest proceeding,

That indirectly and directly too

Thou hast contrived against the very life

Of the defendant; and thou hast incurr’d

The danger formerly by me rehearsed.

With these words, Shylock is defeated. The Duke pronounces that, as a consequence of the legal proceeding, Shylock shall render half his wealth to Antonio and half to Venice, but Antonio pleads that he will forego his share if Shylock converts to Christianity. The Duke concedes; Shylock acquiesces. The litigation comes to a close.

 

Excerpt from “I am the Raleigh,” by F. L. Light

In Arts & Letters, Britain, British Literature, Criminal Law, Fiction, History, Humanities, Law, Literature, Theatre, Writing on December 9, 2015 at 8:45 am

Fred Light

A Shakespearean proficiency in meter and rhetoric may to F L Light be ascribed. Nearly forty of his dramas are now available on Amazon, and twenty have been produced for Audible. His Gouldium is a series of twenty four dramas on the life and times of Jay Gould which he followed with six plays on Henry Clay Frick. The whole first book of his translation of The Iliad was published serially in Sonnetto Poesia. He has also appeared in Classical Outlook and The Raintown Review. Most of his thirty five books of couplets are on economics, such as Shakespeare Versus Keynes and Upwards to Emptiness the State Expands.

In November, 1603, Sir Walter Raleigh was for treason put on trial. Those charged with treason were not allowed lawyers. The prosecutor is Edward Coke, Attorney General of England.

Wolvesley Castle in Winchester, where the chief judicial officers of England and many peers of the realm are gathered. Sergeant at Arms Yelverton comes forth.

Yelverton: You English, conscientious quietude
Abide. In mutest comprehension mark This Court. Let your acuity be quieted,
Judicious silence in this cause permitting. Now let the Keeper here at Castle Wolvesley
Conduct the prisoner, Sir Walter Raleigh,
Into the court.

Raleigh is ushered into the court by the Keeper.

Popham: Name the commissioned magistrates
For watchful jurisdiction of this court.

Yelverton: Yourself, the Lord Chief Justice, Master Justice
Gawdie, Master Justice Warburton, Robert
Lord Cecil, Edward Lord Wotton of Morley,
And Henry Lord Howard.

Popham:                          What is the professed
Indictment, Sergeant Yelverton?

Yelverton:                                  It is
Alleged Sir Walter Raleigh in comprised
Inclusion with a clique conceived
And counseled a conspiracy, resolved
The presence of the King be done away,
With common dispossession of the King’s
Propriety; and he, considering seditious seizures
Of the state, by factious infestations would
Revolt effect, who’d raise mutations in
Religion, irreligious primacy
In England prompting, and who’d summon to
This island the amassed misanthropy
Of Spain at arms or an invasive sway
From Scotland. It is further stated that
Lord Henry Cobham met at Durham House
On June the Ninth with Raleigh to procure
For Arabella Stuart the crown of England.
There Raleigh readied the corruption of
Lord Cobham, bidding him confer with Charles
De Ligne, the Count of Aremberg, to draw
Six hundred thousand crowns from him, a sum
For Arabella’s royalty by revolt.
Above this, should Aremberg’s superior,
The Archduke Albert of the Netherlands,
Not have that sum, then to the king of Spain
Should Cobham pass; that Arabella should
In written briefs to Albert and King Philip
And even Savoy’s enthroned administration
Pledge a constant reconcilement held
By London and Madrid, and she must swear
The Papacy’s adherents may persist
In alien ritual of un-English use,
And that her marriage be imagined, moved
And warranted by Philip of Madrid.
And this declarative indictment claims
That Cobham on that ninth of June apprised
George Brooke, his brother, of these plots, assured
Of sibling likelihood therein. And said
That England never glows with lucre till
All Jacobean propagations be
Undone with James, the cubs and bear together;
That a book was lent to Cobham, drawn
From Raleigh’s shelves, purporting that the king
No ancestral validation could assume
For kingship in this realm; that Cobham on
The seventeenth of June then messaged Aremberg
For money with LaRenzi as the messenger;
That on the next day Count Aremberg agreed
Upon six hundred thousand as the sum,
Whereof eight thousand were for Raleigh’s use,
And ten thousand would George Brooke receive.
At these outstanding imputations what
Is your plea?

Raleigh:      Not guilty, and I’ll put myself
Upon the country’s jurisdiction, fain
A jury of my peers may pass on me.

Yelverton: Would you assert a challenge to remove
Or question any jurors?

Raleigh:                          None of them
I know, but, as I sense appearances,
Forthright discrimination and direct
Discretion cannot be denied in them.
Faces of normal reason I regard
Among them, not afraid their rectitude
Will jar with mine. And as I know my plea
Is stainless, let this panel stand. I may
In confident indifference suffer them.
Yet here one wish you may accept as meet.
For you should know intense infirmities
Of late my readiness impair and leave
My memory faint. And thus the itemized
Indictment I would touch on and deny
By individual severalties, as they
Before the court come forth, or else I’ll not
Retain them till at last I may reply.

Coke: The evidential whole is stronger than
Her parts, and overwrought distinctions may
Disintegrate the rightful fullness we’ve
Embodied in this case. Distinguished parts,
When overstretched, constrained distortions put
Before us.

Raleigh:     Undivided evidence
Can hardly be reviewed by a refuter.

Popham: Let the defendant with each single charge
Contend in sequence. By the common law
Judicial consummations come of parts.

 

Four Shows to See in Atlanta this 2012 Christmas Season

In Atlanta, Theatre on December 6, 2012 at 8:45 am

Allen Mendenhall

 

1.  A Christmas Carol at Alliance Theatre

2.  A Christmas Carol at The New American Shakespeare Tavern

3.  Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker at the Fabulous Fox Theatre

4.  The Play of Herod at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church

The Comedy of Errors at the New American Shakespeare Tavern

In Arts & Letters, Humanities, Literature, News and Current Events, News Release, Shakespeare, Theatre on August 31, 2011 at 8:16 am

Allen Mendenhall

Tomorrow marks a preview of The Comedy of Errors, directed by Drew Reeves and performed at the New American Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta.  Performances begin on September 3 and last through September 11, with additional performances on September 17, September 23, September 29, and October 2.  View show information here.

Interview with Troy Camplin, Interdisciplinary Scholar and Author of Diaphysics

In Arts & Letters, Austrian Economics, Communication, Creative Writing, Humanities, Information Design, Libertarianism, Literary Theory & Criticism, News and Current Events, Pedagogy, Rhetoric, Teaching, Theatre, Western Kentucky University, Writing on May 18, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Allen Mendenhall interviews Troy Camplin.

 

Troy Camplin holds a Ph.D. in humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas.  He has taught English in middle school, high school, and college, and is currently taking care of his children at home. He is the author of Diaphysics, an interdisciplinary work on systems philosophy; other projects include the application of F.A. Hayek’s spontaneous order theory to ethics, the arts, and literature. His play “Almost Ithacad” won the PIA Award from the Cyberfest at Dallas Hub Theater.  
 

 

Q:  Your interdisciplinary background seems to lend itself to commentary on this site.  Tell us a bit about that background and a bit about your thoughts on the value of interdisciplinary scholarship.

A:  I have an unusual educational background that I only made more unusual in my independent studies. My undergraduate degree is in Recombinant Gene Technology, with a minor in chemistry, from Western Kentucky University. When I am interested in something, I spend all of my time learning about it. So, as an undergrad, I not only learned about molecular biology through my classes, but also in my independent reading. I read the journals and I read even popular works on molecular biology. This led me to John Gribbin’s book In Search of the Double Helix, in which he talks a great deal about quantum physics. I didn’t know a thing about quantum physics, and I really didn’t understand what he was saying about it in that book, so I decided to read his other books on quantum physics, including In Search of Shroedinger’s Cat. I cannot say I understood quantum physics much after reading that book, either, but I was hooked, and read every popular book on quantum physics I could read. In addition, I ran across several other popular science books that introduced me to what would become much more central to my thinking, including Gleick’s Chaos and Ilya Prigogine’s works on self-organization. These provided several of the seeds of my development as an interdisciplinary scholar.

Another element to my interdisciplinary development was a class I pretty much lucked into. Undergraduates have to take several required courses, of course, and one semester I wanted to take a New Testament class with Joseph Trafton (who was highly recommended, and whose class I eventually did take), but it was full. So I took an Intro. To Philosophy class just to get the hours in that section in. By chance I chose a class taught by Ronald Nash—a random choice that ended up changing my life completely.

Nash taught his class using three texts: a collection of Plato’s dialogues and two books Nash himself wrote. One of the books Nash wrote was Poverty and Wealth: A Christian Defense of Capitalism. It was through Nash that I was introduced to free market economics. I was hooked. I read everything I could find in the university library with the word “capitalism” in the title or as the subject. I read Walter Williams, Milton Friedman, Hayek, and a little book titled Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal  by Ayn Rand. The latter, of course, led me to Atlas Shrugged, and that led me to the rest of her work. Rand hooked me on the idea of being a fiction writer and made me interested in philosophy. I began reading the fiction writers she loved (and the ones she hated, to see why) and the philosophers she loved (and the ones she hated, to see why). I read and fell in love with Victor Hugo and Dostoevsky, Aristotle and Nietzsche. Particularly Dostoevsky and Nietzsche, whose tragic worldviews were deeply appealing to me. Nietzsche deepened my appreciation for philosophy, and introduced me to tragedy. Read the rest of this entry »

Andrew Ferguson on “Converting Mamet”

In Arts & Letters, Austrian Economics, Conservatism, Economics, Humane Economy, Literary Theory & Criticism, Politics, Rhetoric, Theatre on May 17, 2011 at 8:06 am

Allen Mendenhall

The following post appeared at Austrian Economics and Literature.

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Although I do not read The Weekly Standard unless James Seaton has contributed an article or review (read Seaton’s review of Paul Cantor and Stephen Cox’s Literature & The Economics of Liberty at this link), I was pleased and intrigued by this recent article by Andrew Ferguson that addresses the political conversion of America’s most famous living playright, David Mamet.  Ferguson opens the piece with this:

Three decades ago David Mamet became known among the culture-consuming public for writing plays with lots of dirty words. “You’re f—ing f—ed” was a typically Mamet-like line, appearing without the prim dashes back in a day when playwrights were still struggling to get anything stronger than a damn on stage. Mamet’s profanity even became a popular joke: So there’s this panhandler who approaches a distinguished looking gentleman and asks for money. The man replies pompously: “ ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be’ —William Shakespeare.” The beggar looks at him. “ ‘F— you’ —David Mamet.” 

Some critics said his plays were pointlessly brutal. As a consequence he became famous and wealthy. It didn’t hurt when it dawned on people that many of his plays, for all the profanity and brutality, were works of great power and beauty, and often very funny to boot. When people began to say, as they increasingly did by the middle 1980s, that the author of Speed-the-Plow and American Buffalo and Lakeboat had earned a place in the top rank of the century’s dramatists, no one thought that was a joke. He took to writing for the movies (The Verdict, The Untouchables, Wag the Dog), won a Pulitzer Prize for one of his masterpieces (Glengarry Glen Ross), and moved to Holly-wood, where he became a respected and active player in the showbiz hustle.

Ferguson goes on to describe a speech at Stanford in which Mamet expressed his disenchantment with higher education:

Higher ed, he said, was an elaborate scheme to deprive young people of their freedom of thought. He compared four years of college to a lab experiment in which a rat is trained to pull a lever for a pellet of food. A student recites some bit of received and unexamined wisdom—“Thomas Jefferson: slave owner, adulterer, pull the lever”—and is rewarded with his pellet: a grade, a degree, and ultimately a lifelong membership in a tribe of people educated to see the world in the same way.

“If we identify every interaction as having a victim and an oppressor, and we get a pellet when we find the victims, we’re training ourselves not to see cause and effect,” he said. Wasn’t there, he went on, a “much more interesting .  .  . view of the world in which not everything can be reduced to victim and oppressor?”

This led to a full-throated defense of capitalism, a blast at high taxes and the redistribution of wealth, a denunciation of affirmative action, prolonged hymns to the greatness and wonder of the United States, and accusations of hypocrisy toward students and faculty who reviled business and capital even as they fed off the capital that the hard work and ingenuity of businessmen had made possible. The implicit conclusion was that the students in the audience should stop being lab rats and drop out at once, and the faculty should be ashamed of themselves for participating in a swindle—a “shuck,” as Mamet called it. Read the rest of this entry »

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