Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Merchant of Venice

Here is an edifying afternoon:

1. Watch the Al Pacino version of the Merchant of Venice.

2. Listen to a Poli-Sci lecture on the play.

3. Study the dialogue, especially act one, scene three.

The play turns on a loan between a Jew and Christian who despise each other.  The loan is for Bassanio, but it is Antonio who puts up the collateral, for Bassanio is broke and Antonio is good for it.  Bitter dialogue between Shylock, the Jew, and Antonio results in Shylock offering the loan at no interest, but requiring "a pound of flesh" for collateral, literally Shylock can cut 16 ounces of Antonio's flesh out of him if the loan goes bad.

The loan is for 3000 ducats, gold coins, and of course no one is lending "credit" back then, they lend money, gold coins.

Now, keep in mind, at this point in history usurious loans are a criminal offense, and loans are otherwise considered a charitable act.  You help out a person in a jam with a loan at no interest and that is charity, loans for excess consumption even at no interest are just foolishness.

Bassanio's need for 3000 ducats is for an adventure, and when Antonio is about to give a bond with his pound of flesh, Bassanio says:
You shall not seal to such a bond for me:I'll rather dwell in my necessity.
Just so. No one ever needs to take out a loan for consumption, for adventure, such as starting a business.  Bassanio figures he'll just work out another way to pursue his adventure.  The loan is just seemingly a quick and easy way to advance. It is a voluntary act, and calculation, usually wrong, as it is in this play, when Antonio says:
Come on: in this there can be no dismay;My ships come home a month before the day.
Of course, Antonio's ships do not come in, not even a dinghy.

The Poli-Sci lecture is illuminating, as the professor is claiming Shakespeare was sketching out a post-Elizabethan path for the the UK, with Venice as a model.  150 years after this play, the founding fathers in the Federalist Papers were often referring to Venice as a model for nascent USA.  As he went through aspects of Venice point by point, I could not help but think he was describing Hong Kong today.


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