Tuesday, June 17, 2014

So THAT'S why they don't teach it in schools anymore

My dad and I are each putting together a list of blind spots that we have in our favored form of entertainment. He blogs about movies so he's planning to watch a bunch of classics that he hasn't seen, I blog about books so I'm going to read some of those books that make people say "how can you have a BA in English without reading this!?!?" A good example for my part is Macbeth - it was never required reading in high school, any of my community college classes, or the two Shakespeare classes that I took at Cal Poly. I've never seen a production of it or even a film interpretation. The Scottish play is a mystery to me, as is a lot of Shakespeare.

I've decided to go one step further than my pops on this blind spot challenge - I'll take the month of July and blog about a Shakespeare play a day, saving Macbeth for the first of August, the month when he and I are starting our own challenge. That sounds suitably crazy.

Either way, I do need to read more Shakespeare and I've had a couple Pelican editions that I ordered from Thriftbooks.com sitting on my shelf for a while, so tonight I sat down and read The Merchant of Venice.

The play is a fairly well crafted little comedy with some decidedly dark elements. Before reading the introduction I actually thought it was a tragedy because the only thing I remembered about it is that it's the play in which someone has to pay a debt with a pound of flesh.

Tropes abound in the comic portions of the play - gender-bending makes an appearance, clownish servants are in evidence, and so on. The tragic elements aren't built on tropes so much as they are on an incredibly negative Jewish stereotype, which does at least explain why public schools aren't exactly clamoring to ask students to read out Shylock.

Personally I find Shylock sympathetic and interesting to read and I think Antonio's a bit of an idiot - he loves his friends too well and puts himself in the power of someone who he's give every reason to despise him because of his friend's debts.

I did appreciate that the clever ladies step in to save the day, but the lottery set up to sell off Portia into marriage is just fucking grim. Like a lot of Shakespeare this play didn't age particularly well, but still manages to have some progressive ideas (for the late 16th century) pop up here and there.

     - Alli

Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. Pelican Books. New York: New York. 2000. (1598).

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