Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-7479d7b7d-8zxtt Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-14T15:17:53.317Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

2 - Governing the Wolf: Soul and Space in The Merchant of Venice

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 September 2017

Donovan Sherman
Affiliation:
Seton Hall University, New Jersey
Get access

Summary

The Merchant of Venice pits relentlessly economising forces against figures who insist on unknowable interiority. The play, in its compulsive acts of accounting, repeatedly measures, weighs, and translates value into tangible replacements, stand-ins, and prostheses. As Simon Critchley and Tom McCarthy observe, one can simply flip ‘through the text to almost any passage’ to discover ‘variants on owing, exchanging, bequeathing, expending, accounting, and converting applied as the default vocabulary for all manner of subjects and phenomena one would not normally consider to be “economic” ’. Antonio and Shylock, seeming antagonists, both stubbornly and even perversely oppose this radical broadening of economic processes, and as a result, they share an uncanny bond beyond their actual bond of monetary promise. Both have a deep disdain of explaining their motives, and their expressions of denial lend symmetry to the dramatic action: the play opens with Antonio dismissing attempts to identify the cause of his sadness, and the trial climaxes with Shylock dismissing attempts to identify the cause of his hate. Throughout, both of them resist, with varying repertoires of techniques, any attempt to place their inner selves on a grid of valuation.

Looked at differently, the conflict of the play could easily be described in terms precisely opposite to what I have sketched out here. Shylock could represent the more economic side with Antonio, along with his fellow Venetians, embodying a belief in grander and more abstract principles, such as mercy, friendship and love. As a Jewish usurer, Shylock accommodates – and as a canny performer, he manipulates – a host of associations that characterise him as obsessively valuing, counting, assessing and correlating worth. And the Christian citizens of Venice habitually deny the seduction of surface value; they celebrate instead the moral lesson impressed onto Bassanio at Belmont: ‘The world is still deceived with ornament’ (III, ii, 74).

This chapter will try to have it both ways. Shylock is indeed an economising figure, but in a radically different manner than the Christian Venetians. When read as an elaboration of the soul's placement in the ‘tough world’ of space and tangibility surveyed in the previous chapter, Merchant reveals a deeper negotiation of how the unknowable can be reflected – though not determined – through the ornament of physical means.

Type
Chapter
Information
Second Death
Theatricalities of the Soul in Shakespeare's Drama
, pp. 43 - 78
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2016

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×