This article takes up one of the most perplexing and thoroughly examined questions posed by Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice – the origin and extent of Antonio’s melancholy. While many critical responses point to anxieties towards his ventures abroad, unrequited romantic love or general indecisiveness to explain the merchant’s sadness, this reading asserts that his atrabilious nature must stem from something more latent, comprehensive and socially binding. This article argues that it is Antonio’s unwanted, yet pre-existing and indisputable similitude with Shylock, the Jewish usurer, that incites an internal sadness; Antonio’s insistence upon his absolute difference to Shylock’s profession, religion and humanity ignites and prolongs melancholy, since those are, ironically, the very things that make them so similar and renders his opposition unsuccessful.
Alterity, Sameness and Irony in Venice
Anna Carleton Forrester
Money in Shakespeare’s Sonnets
Although analysing Shakespeare’s sonnets in the context of ‘Shakespeare and money’ is not an obvious choice, I believe that Karl Marx’s ‘The Power of Money’ in his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts are as relevant to the sonnets as they are to plays such as Timon of Athens. My reading of them will foreground their dialogue with terms and developments in early modern banking and focus on metaphors of economic transaction that run through the whole cycle; indeed, a third of them figure love, its wealth and truth, use and abuse, in terms of investment in order to project an alternative economy beyond the self-alienating world of banking/financial gain. This imbrication of the erotic with the economic comprises also the writing of love sonnets, a competitive game-like economic transaction. Soneteering is a way of ‘merchandizing love’ that inevitably casts a capitalist shadow across the supposedly most sincere expression of love.
Economies of Mercy in The Merchant of Venice
While the mercantile value of mercy in The Merchant of Venice has been often highlighted, the diminished role of pity has received scant attention. This article argues that the ways in which mercy is shown to subsume and eventually incorporate pity throw light on the play’s negotiation of contentious religious and political approaches to the spectres of poverty and/or impoverishment that threaten the emerging mercantile economy. A re-reading of relevant scenes retraces the Catholic implications of the safety-net potential of pity which, unlike the Protestant worldly pity of The Sonnets, here seems bound for repression. In Portia’s final donation to the merchants of Venice even the lingering allusions to Catholicism are neutralized and put to the service of vested interests: a conflation of Christian and Jewish usury that cuts across all religious divides; such allusions are possibly reminiscent of the Monti di Pietà (Mounts of Piety) existent in Italy since 1462 to counter Jewish usury.
The twenty-first century has witnessed the rise to power of images in every aspect of human endeavour. Speculative financial derivatives have achieved a predominant place in the economy, spin and perception rule the political sphere, and technological media ensure that we spend our lives surrounded by images of all kinds. Reading the works of Shakespeare reveals the roots of this process in the early modern period, when the iconoclasm of the Reformation, popular protests against usury, and the campaign against ritual magic combined to provide an ethically based popular resistance to the power of signs.