Thursday, February 15, 2007

Critical Thinking, re: The Merchant of Venice Acts Three and Four


Bro. Robert K. Peach, F.S.C.

ENG 320 American Lit/Composition

14 February 2007

Critical Thinking, re: The Merchant of Venice Acts Three and Four

Act III Scene 1

  1. Do we have reason to sympathize with Shylock in his upset and anger? Explain. Also: How is he portrayed comically throughout the scene? How as a villain? How as a romantic?

Act III Scene 2

  1. Do you think Bassanio is only after Portia for the money? After all, see I.1.ii 129-41. How might the dialectic (intellectual exchange, or discussion) between Bassanio and Portia in this scene (by which Bassanio is tested to both prove his love and win that of Portia) indicate otherwise? Explain.

  1. How is it that Bassanio could be classified as a “bankrupt spendthrift” based on his pursuit of Portia and what we can gather from his external image?

  1. Portia is certainly described as beautiful, but how else might we consider her beauty based off of what Bassanio says in lines 120-26 or thereabouts?

  1. How does Gratiano’s sudden coupling with Nerissa contrast with what our obnoxious friend said earlier in conversation with Solerio and Solanio? What effect does this pairing have on the play in relationship to Bassanio and Portia’s union?

  1. Contrast what is going on in Belmont versus what is happening in Venice at this point of the play? What does this contrast provide for us as an audience?

  1. Recall Gratiano’s words, “We have won the fleece” (i 241), upon return from Belmont to Venice. What does this say of his attitude regarding love/marriage?

  1. Bassanio’s calls himself “worse than nothing” (i 260). Why?

  1. How is Portia portrayed as both a charitable and rational woman in the last part of this scene? Explain.

Act III Scene 3

  1. What does Shylock have working to his favor? Is he willing to bestow any mercy upon Antonio? What does this situation imply about societal law and how it was administered?

  1. Antonio is said by Shylock to have called him what? And so how does Shylock decide to act? What literary technique is used with, then, with such imagery in mind?

  1. Antonio seems to want Bassanio to witness his suffering. Why do you think that is? What do you think he wants to demonstrate to Bassanio, especially considering that Portia is now in his best friend’s life?

Act III Scene 4

  1. What is the plan that Portia and Nerissa set in motion towards the end of this scene? Consider their initially planned disguise: Why is it appropriate in a sexist society that they would disguise themselves as such?

Act III Scene 5

  1. Here we have a brief, humorous dialectic between Lancelet and Jessica. Summarize it, in brief and discuss its thematic significance.

Act IV Scenes 1 and 2

  1. What is the reason Shylock gives for his repulsion of Antonio? What are some of the metaphors he uses?

  1. What is the Duke trying to persuade Shylock to do? Whom has the Duke favored? What is Antonio’s response to all of this?

  1. Consider the master/slave dynamic that’s playing out in this “dramedy” (or is it, “dramady”?). Anyhow, what are the various master/slave pairings that develop throughout the story? That is, who is beholden or indebted to whom? How so?

  1. Gratiano makes a clever play on words (i.e., “pun”) in lines 125-28. What does he mean by saying what he does of Shylock’s “soul”? What is his general attitude towards Shylock? Gratiano compares him to what? What is this literary technique called?

  1. Portia and Nerissa disguise themselves as what/whom?

  1. What does Portia say of mercy, man, and God? (cf. ii 190-212)

  1. Male friendship. Brotherhood. As we’ve discussed, both are very important in Elizabethan England and are thus incorporated into Shakespeare’s drama of Italian life as strong themes. See lines 276-299 and summarize the dialogical exchange (i.e., dialogue) between Antonio and his best bud, Bassanio.

  1. What legal loophole does Portia jump through to save Antonio? What are the consequences for Shylock? What does Antonio decide? What does his decision reveal regarding his character? Has he been transformed at all by his experience?

  1. What do you think the significance of Portia and Nerissa’s “ring game” with their respective lovers is? Tell me more, tell me more, tell me mooooo---eee----ooore!

Monday, February 12, 2007

In Language We Learn: Translating Shakespeare


By reading closely and carefully the work of literary masters such as Shakespeare, we learn how to write well ourselves. I know that it has been difficult and tedious work for you to understand the archaic English of Shakespeare's play. But hopefully the experience of interpreting his work will give you a greater appreciation for the richness of language and the many ways we can manipulate it to suit some greater, poetic purpose. That is at least my hope for you, anyway.

That said, I would like to have you flex your creative brain muscles once again: Please translate one of the following bits of dialogue from ACT III of The Merchant of Venice into plain, everyday speech.

You all seemed to do pretty well in the earlier translation exercises. Have a go at it again, and pay attention to how this activity is suited to help you understand the underlying themes and morals that come across in character speech.

III.1.ii 52-72 (Shylock's dialogue that begins, "To bait fish withal")

III.2.ii 1-24 (Portia's opening dialogue)

III.2.ii 42-74 (Portia's dialogue that begins, "Away then. I am locked in one of them...")

III.2.ii 75-110 (Bassanio's dialogue that begins, "So may the outward shows bet least themselves;")

III.2.ii 118-152 (Bassanio's dialogue that begins, "What find I here?")

III.2.ii 153-178 (Portia's dialogue the begins, "You see me, Lord Bassanio, where I stand...")

III.2.ii 261-282 (Bassanio's dialogue that begins, "O sweet Portia, / Here are a few of the...")