06d11e3a0263b62966ea48fc5e990cc3I aware that I haven’t been around very much over the past fortnight and I am also aware why.  The play that I am studying with my two Shakespeare groups this term is The Merchant of Venice and after wrestling with it for the past month or so it is my decided opinion that it is by far and away the most complex of Shakespeare’s plays that we have yet tackled – and yes, we have tackled Hamlet.  It’s not that there are problems with the text, none of this business of half a dozen different Quartos with variations as to where the great speeches go or if they are even there at all.  (Did you know that there is a contemporary edition of Henry V without the Choruses?)  Nor is there much debate about the date or the sources used – although there are considerably more than the usual number of possible sources.  No, it is just that there are so many ideas running around inside those twenty scenes that finding a way to bring some sort of order to a discussion has been proving very difficult indeed.

Of course, the problem isn’t helped by the fact that while the play is known as The Merchant of Venice very often a production is dominated by the figure of Shylock, and the old actor managers, who liked to play Shylock themselves, often brought the curtain down at the moment of his final exit from the stage, regardless of the fact that this truncated the play that Shakespeare actually wrote by more than two full scenes.

As it happens the first written reference we have, the entry in the Stationers Register of July 1598, names the play as

a book of the Marchaunt of Venyce or otherwise called the Jewe of Venyce

So, even within a year of its composition there seems to have been some debate as to who the focal character actually was.  But, you can’t deny the existence of those final scenes that have to do with Portia and Nerissa’s rings and if you’re teaching the play you have to be able to account for them.

So, there I was struggling along with this until quite suddenly, yesterday morning, I had what my friend Lorna calls a light bulb moment.

“Bond,” I shouted.

“Bond?” queried The Bears.  “James Bond?”

“No,” I said.  “The Bond – the concept that allows you to untangle all the multitude of ideas that the play deals with.”

“Oh,” they said and went back to eating their marmalade sandwiches and reading about the adventures of Paddington Bear.

Well, they might have been indifferent to my brainwave, but I now have a nice neat list of all the different categories of bonds that can be found within the play:

  • emotional bonds;
  • legal bonds;
  • the bonds between the state and the people;
  • the bonds (or covenants) between God and the peoples of the Old and New Testaments.

I even have sub-categories of the categories, but I won’t bore you with those.

More importantly I have a way into discussing the play which will allow me to bring all its disparate elements together and I can write my lecture notes. And, writing those is no problem at all once I know what is going in them, so I can also return to concentrating on the more important things like reading novels and writing about them here.  Thank goodness for that.


8 thoughts on “‘Bond’ing

  1. Sounds like a good brainwave! I had a passion for Shakespeare all through my teens and early twenties, but never taught him. I can imagine it’s challenging but enjoyable. Good luck with the lecture!

    1. You should come along to one of our later sessions, Harriet, when we look at the ways in which the play has been produced since the time of the Restoration. Inevitably, the social and political mores of the day are very influential. I think that would be just the sort of thing you would find interesting.

  2. That sounds a super way to make sense of the threads. It’s years since I read Merchant but even through the fog of time I can see how your approach would bring structure.
    Henry 5 without the chorus just would not be the same play at all….

    1. And structure is really what it needs, Karen. I’ve been watching as many DVD versions of previous productions as I can find (five so far) and in every case bar one they have cut great swathes out in order to find a way through. That may work on stage but it doesn’t account for the whole play.

  3. Thank goodness for that! I like the idea of bonds tying everything together in the play, I had not thought of it like that before but it has a very pleasing sense to it. Brilliant. Have fun writing and lecturing and discussing 🙂

  4. I need to “brush up my Shakespeare!” But I can still recite Portia’s quality of mercy speech, which I had to memorize 50 years ago. Shakespeare…so timeless. Wish you could record your lectures.

    1. Recording would be difficult because my lectures always wander off into discussion sessions, Grad, the more so because my audience consists in large part of graduates from other disciplines who are able to bring a very different slant to the topic. I have two theologians in the groups who are going to have really interesting things to say about the idea of the bond between man and God, especially as I think Shakespeare raises the question of the difference between Christian doctrine and Christian practice and isn’t very complementary.

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