The Botereid

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Merchant of Venice

Just got out of Bloom's class. We covered the The Merchant of Venice. I was pretty shocked by his words about the play:

This has done much damage. This has been a profoundly evil force in the world.

He did say that this wasn't all Shakespeare's fault, of course. But he cited the case of the Nazis, who apparently forced sages and rabbis to play the part of Shylock in the concentration camps before they were killed. What a hideous example.

Bloom seemed thoroughly puzzled by the play though. At the end he said, "We have not come to any conclusions, though this should not shock me: I myself do not know where this play goes." His two main challenges on the play: (1) Why did Shakespeare break the consistency of Shylock with the enforced conversion? (2) Is Shylock comic?

We pretty much concluded with being completely baffled by (1) and agreeing that (2) isn't possible. To deal with the latter first, this may be what Bloom means by consistently saying that Shakespeare has characters that get away from him. The Merchant of Venice is a comedy. Shylock would have been played by the fool. But there's so much horror in his words that I think his comedy might have been lost somewhere in the writing of it.

On the forced conversion, I think we're all lost. How can Shylock agree to it? He sticks so adamantly to his individual history, his Jewishness, his ownership of the bond, that his submission at the end is utterly strange. I believe that Shylock would've spit in the Duke's face if there weren't need for a happy Act V. But why bring up the topic of conversion at all if it couldn't be done while maintaining the coherence of the character?

Last note: Bloom was so desperate before class about finding out the date of an upcoming book signing that I offered to call the store and find out. He thanked me profusely and said, "Just tell them that you are calling on behalf of that nasty old Bloom." So when I called I told the manager, "I'm calling on behalf of the insuperable Professor Harold Bloom." His eyes widened, he chuckled and whispered, "Insuperable!" I looked at him and he laughed again, and then, in full Bloomean mode, he said, "Perhaps insufferable!"

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