Tag: psychology

A Modern, Short Story Re-Write of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (as told from Shylock’s point of view)

Deep in thought over Jessica and her, at least by his standards, poor choices she’s making in her life, weigh heavily upon this father’s mind. Shylock has spent the morning wondering how he, a Jew trying to maintain ground in this Christian society, could have better cultivated a sense of loyalty in her to their heritage and their beliefs. They (for in this society there is a heavy distinction between “they” and “us”) have convinced his daughter that he is a devil – they are the “good” and he is the “bad” – brainwashed her, he is certain. Now, the little bell above the door has sent its light ting! to interrupt his thoughts and bring a momentary distraction from this new heart ache.

Shylock recognizes this perspective customer as he looks up from the paper clip he has been absentmindedly fidgeting with on his desk, and he is by no means in the mood to amuse. Bassanio is the self-serving, self-indulged friend of Shylock’s earthly arch-nemesis, Antonio, which makes him guilty by association if nothing else, and here he is asking the “lowly Jew” for money? This understanding almost brings smirk to Shylock’s worn face.

“Three-thousand dollars…well.” Shylock responds to Bassanio’s request, not asking to clarify, but repeating the requested sum in part to buy time to consider how he’s going to handle this transaction, and in part to reiterate the irony of the request.

“Yes sir, for three months.”
Sir? Shylock replays the word in his mind. It is interesting to him that in time of their need they are willing to offer some semblance of respect by referring to him as “sir”.

“For three months… well.” This repetition for sake of drawing out the irony and buying Shylock time. It defies his greed, his need to survive, if he were to turn down this business opportunity, but it defies his sense of self-worth to accept it.
“Yes,” Bassanio confirms, “Antonio will be responsible for paying it back.”
“Antonio will be responsible…well.” In his mind, Shylock snorts at this. Typical of Bassanio to need something for himself but to make Antonio responsible for it. Ahhh, the irony… the irony… In Shylock’s observation, the Christian idea of friendship being exhibited is far from the example of friendship the founder of their religion gave.

Christianity, which bases its moral code, religious doctrine, and spirituality upon the example and teachings of Jesus has, in Shylock’s experience, betrayed itself multiple times over. He marvels over the superiority the Christians carry regarding themselves, yet their treatment of humanity lacks. Further, he finds it more amusing that Christians base their existence upon the teachings of a Jew, yet they spurn and scorn the Jews among them.       This irony too is not lost on Shylock.

“Will you do it? Do we have a deal?” Bassanio interjects.
Shylock again subtly emphasizes his consideration, “Three-thousand dollars for three months, and Antonio is responsible for paying it back.”

“That’s it.”
“Antonio is a good man.” This statement is not made as a question, nor is it made as a matter-of-fact. This statement is made sarcastically, however subtly, though the sarcasm is entirely lost on Bassanio.

No matter what the Christians of Venice may think of Shylock and the way he conducts business, he cannot, in good conscience, conduct business with an absent man. “Well, I’ll have to meet with Antonio, discuss the parameters of the deal, and make sure he understands the implications and the risks…” This is a dual-purposed decision on Shylock’s part. For one, no business man worth his salt would hold a man responsible who was not present to agree to the bond, and for the second thing, Antonio’s pride could use a shaving or two by being forced to face Shylock head-on, look him in the eye, and request his help.

Ha! A Christian at the mercy of a Jew… Shylock finds the whole thing both amusing, and slightly disconcerting. He would prefer to not enter into the arrangement at all; too much bad blood between the two religious sects, and too much bad blood between the two individuals: the “holier-than-thou” Christian, and the “lowly, wretched” Jew. Shylock shakes his head to clear the thoughts.

“Ahh! Here he is! Shylock, this is Antonio,” as Bassanio formally introduces the two strangers who, in spite of their unacquaintance, have previous, unpleasant interaction with one another.

Glimpsing Antonio in the reflection of the security mirror hanging in the corner of the office, the old, harbored feelings of revenge and resentment, dislike and distrust surface. Shylock is consumed with thoughts of hatred for Antonio.

“Shylock, did you hear me?” Bassanio-the-selfish interrupts Shylock’s thoughts.

“Oh, yeah… I heard you. I was just considering what I have readily available to loan. I’m not sure I have it to lend…” Shylock is wrestling with his conscience. He can very easily stick to this story and get out of the whole deal with his good conscience still intact, but his old feelings of resentment gurgle so close to the surface now and eventually win out as he continues, “But, ya know what? I’ve got a wealthy buddy who can supply the funds. You boys still interested?”

Shylock notices the hesitation in Antonio’s answer as he loudly exhales his breath before answering, “I…” and his “I” lingers on his tongue until it fades from voice. “I don’t usually borrow more than I have, nor do I spend or lend more than I have.” Antonio again hesitates as he looks at his friend, Bassanio. “But, my buddy here needs quite a bit, so…” Antonio exhales again. “But, what the heck, let’s do it.”

Shylock stares at Antonio, surprised by his weakness; how easily he betrays his personal conviction because he continually allows himself to be taken advantage of by his “friends”.

Thinking on this, Shylock’s thoughts make their way to his tongue before he is able to stop it.

“You would betray yourself, and your convictions because a “friend” wants you to?” Shylock shakes his head in disgust. “You would do business with me, a hated adversary, just because a “friend” wants more from you than you can give? And you can’t give it – you don’t have it to give, so you need my help. You come to me, and expect me to help you?! You spit in my face last Wednesday. You have called me a dog, yet you refuse to even treat me as well as you treat the stray dogs on the street! All this and more mistreatment from you, who do not even know me, and yet here you stand and want me to help you?”

Shylock does not break his gaze from Antonio, and it is not lost on Shylock that Antonio has not lost his look of contempt for Shylock.

Proving this contempt, Antonio responds, “Sure I have. I have, and I’ll do it again.”
Shylock, in disbelief, shakes his head. “I would be friends with you. I would be a good friend to you. I would help you out with anything you needed help with; I’d give you the shirt off my back, but you’re too stupid and too stubborn to listen.”

A moment of thick silence passes between the men before Shylock, blood boiling with the flavor of ill-regard and old harbored resentments, speaks again. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do… I’ll lend you the money you want, for the amount of time you want it for. If you do not repay me the money by the agreed upon conditions, I get a pound of your flesh.”

This is a condition of hidden duality; consciously, Shylock assumes there is no way Antonio will take this deal – which will absolve Shylock from any responsibility in the transaction, and will absolve him from having to do business with this stupid, stubborn, arrogant, oppressive Christian; subconsciously, in the rare event that Antonio should accept the deal, a small part of the weaker side of Shylock will be justified when the revenge Antonio deserves is served – cold – which is the best way revenge is served.

To the ill fate of Shylock, and the damnation of Antonio, too proud to gasp for air as he is drowning, Antonio signs on the dotted line.

About this re-write:

I rewrote this scene from Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice, for one of my Literature classes. I chose this particular scene because Shylock is a character whom scholars are unable to agree upon, nor are they able to come to any concrete conclusions about. Scholars and readers alike do not know how to appropriately classify the character of Shylock, how to analyze his actions and behaviors, nor can they effectively determine an agreement on Shakespeare’s intent with the character of Shylock. Is he good? Is he bad? Are any of the characters in the play able to distinctively be classified as “good” or “bad”?

Author Kenneth Gross, in his book titled Shylock is Shakespeare makes the claim that Shylock “steps into a void and is almost forgotten by the play itself, which continues on for another act” (Gross). Gross goes on then to use this “incompleteness” as support for his understanding as the reason readers and scholars are left continually guessing about Shylock saying, “we can neither quite let him go nor decide what form to give him in our minds” (Gross). As a reader, I am unable to let go of Shylock’s character. Modern readers need clearly defined characters; they need the immediate gratification of knowing whom among the characters to “root for”. Shakespeare does not readily provide his readers with this, so it is up to the reader to decide, making it easy to pin Shylock as the villain. Upon close analysis and ample consideration, this is not necessarily the case of course, unless the reader is using his/her own religious attitudes as bias in their reading.

I used Gross’ book as support that I was, in fact, not alone in Shylock’s lingering presence in my analyses. Further, I used author Janet Adelman’s book, Blood Relations: Christian and Jew in the Merchant of Venice, for clarification of the complex relationship between Antonio and Shylock. Adelman purports that the theme of blood is undeniable between the two sects; i.e. The Jews demanded the blood of Jesus; Jesus gave his blood for his followers (Christians); Shylock demands blood from Antonio; Antonio eventually, figuratively, bleeds Shylock dry; not to mention the close “familial” relationship between the two religions in the first place in which, historically, Christianity was born from Judaism.

As a critical reader of literature, and as an analyst of literature, I feel that Shylock deserves a deeper look. There is much to be missed by succumbing to the modern day understanding of a story in which we take it at face value, placing classifications where they easily seem to fit. Shakespeare clearly does not divide his characters in The Merchant of Venice as good or bad, but instead intends the reader to fairly balance, and give a fair fighting chance to all of his characters. It is in this “fair” reading that, perhaps, Shakespeare’s intent can be interpreted.

Works Cited
Adelman, Janet. Blood Relations: Christian and Jew in the Merchant of Venice. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2008. Web. 25 Oct. 2014. <http://site.ebrary.com/lib/apus/reader.action?docID=10266060&gt;.
Gross, Kenneth. Shylock Is Shakespeare. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2006. Web. 24 Oct. 2014. <http://site.ebrary.com/lib/apus/reader.action?docID=10266016&gt;.
Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. ENGL 200: Composition and Literature. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. Web. 10 Oct 2014.

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Spit Wads and Bullets

Thwack! The spit wad squishes in its landing on the Spanish textbook sitting open on my desk. We pause our anticipatory talk of upcoming prom on April 24 – exactly one month to the day. Not at all surprised at this par-for-course behavior of the boys in my sophomore class, I roll my eyes in faux annoyance as I turn to look back over my left shoulder. A group of them, sitting purposely too straight and proper in their chairs, grinning like a herd of Cheshire cats, point at one another in a haphazardly organized effort of deflecting blame. Shaking my head and exhaling a sigh of annoyance, I turn back to the group of girls gathered in the same circle as myself and we resume our chatter.

Thwack! Another spit wad breaks the barrier of our “girl circle,” this time splatting into one of the girl’s shoulder before rolling down the front of her shirt and landing in her lap. Quickly she brushes the slobbery wad of chewed paper off her leg and into the floor. “Grow up,”she seethes at the boys.

“Don’t you talk to Billy Idol that way,” a disguised male voice from the back row quotes a line from Adam Sandler’s new movie, The Wedding Singer.

One of the other girls in our circle growls in response, but again, this is mostly for show. Daily we are annoyed with their antics, but this same idiocy that annoys us also partially endears them to us as fellow classmates and friends.

“Where is Ms. B?” I ask only out of nosiness. Ms. B’s is our second-to-last class of the day, and though time spent dodging spit wads is far more pleasurable than conjugating verbs, half the class period is nearly over.

Pop! One of the boys who had been standing in the doorway on “teacher watch” duty (so as to alert the others when to stop misbehaving) pops one of the girls’ bra straps as he hurries back to his seat. “She’s comin’!” he squeals in a high-pitched, mock voice, purposely trying to heighten the excitement in the room. We all heed his warning then, shuffling our desks back into less than tidy rows.

When Ms. B steps into her classroom, red-rimmed eyes and slumped shoulders evidence of her weariness, we are composed and orderly, no sign that anything amiss has been taking place. I assume that her lack of notice means we’ve been successful in our façade, but as she stands in front of us, head down and very obviously collecting her words, I know it has nothing to do with our successfully hidden shenanigans, and that, instead, she is preoccupied in her thoughts.

We shoot sideways glances to one another, eyebrows raise, shoulders shrug… none of us know what to say or do. After all of our eyes meet each others’ and a silent consensus is reached that none of us know anything, Ms. B lifts her gaze from the worn industrial carpeting and focuses intently on the sheets of student artwork plastered along the back wall of the room. I wonder if she is assessing the plethora of spit wads littering the room.

“Mr. Green got a phone call from a colleague of his in Jonesboro.” Her voice quivers as she references the principal of our school. “We don’t know any details yet, but…” she pauses, again, takes a breath, then begins again. “We don’t know any details yet because it just happened, but… someone took a gun to a school in Jonesboro and… I don’t even want to imagine…” Ms. B voice trails off. She cries, heartbroken. Amongst my peers there are some small gasps, a sniffle, and a couple of classmates squirm uncomfortably in their seats.

Someone sucked all the air out of the room. The tick of the clock on the wall above the chalkboard, the hour hand holding steady at “1,” pushes the minute hand past “27.” How strange time is, to continue on in spite of ourselves. I think about time for a minute; about how, in the very same minutes – seconds, even – while we were dodging spit wads, terrified students at Westside Middle School, just three hours away in distance, were dodging bullets.

I stare intently on the spit wad stuck to the chalk board behind Ms. B’s head, marveling over how mundane the silliness is. I wonder how many mundane spit wads witnessed the horrors that had taken place at that school not even an hour earlier.

We sit in silence; some watch the clock, others close their eyes. We don’t know what any of this means. We know it is sad – the loss of human life is sad – but we cannot fathom it. Our lack of experience has not fully developed our aptitude for empathy yet. Our perspective is skewed; incomplete.

Realization of the implications of what Ms. B has just told us finally dawning, we slowly look around the room at one another, beginning, for the first time, to consider each other in new light – in suspect light?
Yet…
No. That sort of thing doesn’t happen in places like this.
Thwack! The spit wad that had been trailing a slow descent finally loses its grasp on the chalkboard, and we all startle as it falls, sloppily, in a collection of dust onto the chalk tray.

About this essay:

I was inspired to write the essay, “Spit Wads and Bullets,” by a prompt in a college textbook asking the writer to recall a national event, using his/her senses to re-create this memory. As I’m sure would occur with most people, several national events came to mind, but this one in particular unfolded effortlessly in my mind, begging to be penned. It tells the story of the Jonesboro, Arkansas school shooting which occurred on March 24, 1998, subtly and indirectly, by employing the parallel of what myself and my classmates were doing at our own school three hours away, in the very same minutes as the tragedy in Jonesboro.

My use of italicized “sound effects” throughout the essay were implemented as a “startle” technique, to prompt a sort of “mental jolt” in the reader. Similarly, my ending is intended to leave the reader with a leaden feeling as the heaviness of the essay begins to sink in.

Disclaimer: Names have been changed in this essay.